Online social networks display research potential

As the reach and influence of online social networks consistently grow over consumers and the general media, the need for PR professionals to effectively utilize these networks is also growing.

As the reach and influence of online social networks consistently grow over consumers and the general media, the need for PR professionals to effectively utilize these networks is also growing.

Yahoo Answers, launched in December 2005, is an online community that allows users to post any question they want and receive nearly instantaneous answers from other Yahoo Answers community members.

Dina Freeman, senior PR manager at Yahoo, says the service can be beneficial for PR pros getting ready to pitch for a piece of business or to create a campaign for a current client.

"You have consumers talking about products and brands from a very elementary and honest perspective," Freeman says. "It can be used for market research because it provides you with a very good idea of the sentiment around a brand or product."

She says both agency and corporate communications executives can use Yahoo Answers to identify advocates of their brands. Freeman adds that the service should really be utilized by communications pros who "are still a little bit confused about how to identify brand advocates or the key bloggers in their particular space."

Matt Batt, national media relations manager at Tech Image, says PR people should approach such tools with caution.

"The one thing I worry about [in] pointing clients in that direction would be the validity of the people answering these questions," Batt says. "People can come up with great answers, but if they're the wrong answers, it could send someone in the wrong direction."

Orly Keren, marketing manager for professional network LinkedIn, says a number of PR pros use LinkedIn to find expert sources or details for a story.

"It's not anonymous, and the person stands behind their answer," she adds.

Batt says these devices can be used as effective research tools, but "with any of these new tools we're seeing out there, I think a lot of it is still 'to be determined.'"

Key points:

The reach and influence of online social/professional networks keep growing

Users must determine the validity and significance of answers they receive

Social networks are good for identifying advocates and key bloggers with which brands need to connect

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