Blogs: Keeping both eyes on the blogosphere

The law of averages says your company will be discussed on a blog eventually, and it might not be flattering. Erica Iacono finds ways of tracking the blogosphere

The law of averages says your company will be discussed on a blog eventually, and it might not be flattering. Erica Iacono finds ways of tracking the blogosphere

Tracking a client's mentions in the media has always been an integral part of a PR professional's job. But as the media landscape has changed, the need for monitoring statements that could impact the reputation of a client or company has grown even more challenging. And some companies have recognized this need by giving companies a way to keep track of what's being said in the blogosphere.

PR Newswire recently added blog monitoring to the Web Pubs portion of its eWatch service at no extra charge to the clients already monitoring the 10,000 journalism-related sites. Nancy Sells, VP of PR Newswire, says that the service has narrowed down the blogs monitored to 400, but clients can request additional ones.

"We want to make it quality, [but] we didn't want to overload," she says. "PR people are so busy. The more quality information we can give them , the better."

Like most other providers of blog-monitoring services, PR Newswire works with its clients to devise search terms and keywords in monitoring them.

"We find that people in PR like to have someone hold their hand and walk them through the services," Sells explains. She points out that it's important to not only include search terms for the client's company, but also for negative buzzwords associated with the company and names of competitors. Clients have the option of obtaining real-time re-porting of blog mentions of their company via e-mail or by visiting the eWatch website.

Bacon's Information offers a similar service as an add-on feature to its MediaSource product. Chris Thilk, internet research analyst for Bacon's, says it has the capability of covering approximately 700 blogs that are vetted and researched to ensure they are written by active journalists.

Knowing that a blog is well-respected should be key to monitoring, he adds. "Blogs are the new Op-Ed page," says Thilk. "I think a mention on a blog should be given the same kind of weight [as] any [other] editorial commentary."

Once clients have information about where they're being mentioned, Thilk says, the next step is using the raw data that the service provides to put everything into context.

To determine whether a specific blog is influential, he suggests looking at how many other blogs link to it or how many blogs it links to. The real-time reporting feature also allows clients to see if an unexpected mention pops up. "That is important to brand and reputation management," Thilk says.

In addition to providing information on a specific client's mention in the blogosphere, Bacon's also provides users with a profile of each blogger, as well as contact information.

"One of the things about monitoring blogs is that it's important to engage in the conversation," Thilk notes. "If you find someone is talking about you in a negative fashion, and you're alerted to that, it's incumbent on you to contact the blogger and say that something was wrong or inaccurate."

Some companies offer blog-monitoring services that are available to the public, free of charge. Intelliseek has a web-based service called BlogPulse that allows anyone to search the blogosphere for relevant mentions. But Peter Blackshaw, CMO and chief satisfaction officer, says that the offering serves as a teaser to the company's more sophisticated mining product, BrandPulse.

Blackshaw says Intelliseek monitors nearly 12 million forms of consumer-generated media (CGM), which include blogs, as well as discussion boards and other user-generated content.

"Companies must be super mindful of [CGM]," he advises.

While it is helpful for customers to come in with a set of keywords or issues that they want to monitor, Blackshaw says, that is "only half the equation. Half the gold is what you do not know. New issues emerge, so we're constantly shedding new light on unknown areas."

Cymfony's CGM monitoring and analysis product, Digital Consumer Insight, builds on that belief of using such services as strategic planning tools. The product, which monitors nearly 10 million forms of CGM, offers "Hot" reports that highlight opportunities and threats in the marketplace based on blog chatter.

Andrew Bernstein, CEO at Cymfony, says such information allows companies to pick up on the important issues before competitors do. "This isn't just about blogs," he says. "It's about a much bigger picture."

Cymfony's analysis tools also offer such information about blog mentions as tone, accuracy, and relevancy. "This is the case when you need the best of both worlds - qualitative and quantitative," Bernstein says.

He adds that, because the product offers near real-time monitoring, PR pros can respond almost immediately to any brewing threats to a client's reputation. "It's a golden opportunity for the PR pro to get much more involved in the strategic side of the house," he says. "This is a pretty critical part of your PR portfolio."

Deborah Eastman, CMO of Biz360, agrees that blog monitoring is only the first step. Biz360 says it currently tracks 1.5 million blogs, with plans to increase to 6 million within the next quarter.

While Eastman says at a "bare minimum" all companies should be monitoring for mentions, she adds that analysis is of utmost value. For instance, Eastman says, several clients value the ability to see the correlation between blog communications and mainstream media.

Yet, despite the ever increasing influence of blogs on reputation and PR, it is important to keep things in perspective.

"Our philosophy is that we see blogs as another media source," explains Eastman. "This is not another universe we have to deal with."

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Technique tips

Do monitor blogs as a way to uncover new trends in your specific industry

Do take advantage of blog-monitoring services to uncover information about competitors

Do use blog-monitoring products to correlate blog coverage of your company to mainstream coverage

Don't treat blogs like a separate entity; they are another media source

Don't expect in-depth analysis from public blog-monitoring services

Don't be afraid to respond to bloggers who post incorrect information

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