Since it burst upon the public consciousness in the mid-1990s, the
Internet has represented a major challenge for the PR industry. The Web
disrupts our carefully cultivated relationship with the mass media,
which for decades served as our primary channel for communicating our
client's messages through stories or events. An explosion of alternative
sources of information on the Web occurred mostly outside the control of
the editors and producers of traditional media.
The latest extensions of this phenomenon are Weblogs, commonly known as
"blogs." These not-so-private "personal" diaries have been around since
the early days of the Web, but two critical developments have pushed
blogs beyond cult status. First, a number of services, such as Blogger,
allow users to post their thoughts for free through a series of
easy-to-use Web tools.
Just pick a template, fill out a form, and push the button to
Voila! You are a Web publisher.
Second, some Weblogs, such as MetaFilter or Slashdot, serve as human
portals; they encourage commentary and inter-action by stringing
together links to content that reflect a consistent theme or opinion.
These human portals reach significant audiences when they provide a
valuable filtering function for their readers. The Web has been, in
effect, pre-surfed for them.
On the surface, Weblogs represent another way to monitor the motivations
and interests of a specific audience. Equally important, their
popularity confirms that people have a natural affinity to express
themselves on-line, as long as you give them intuitive tools that make
it easy to participate.
Organizations can incorporate a variant of Weblog technology within
their own Web sites to actively encourage public consensus around an
idea, product, or company. Blogs provide a natural forum for marshalling
support around any grassroots initiative; they open a new channel for
the public to express and communicate their advocacy. By extension,
corporations that use blogs as an adjunct of their own Web sites can
build a dialogue with their customers or constituents.
As PR execs, we should actively seek ways to speak directly to our
audiences, to find out their interests and answer their questions. We
should build our Web sites around technologies that make it easy for
these audiences to respond directly to us. When we do that, we capture
the true spirit of the blog phenomenon.