PR TECHNIQUE: Weblogs: windows of marketing opportunity

By targeting bloggers and setting up corporate sites, PR experts are gaining a more positive approach to the viral marketing power of weblogs.

By targeting bloggers and setting up corporate sites, PR experts are gaining a more positive approach to the viral marketing power of weblogs.

When weblogs dawned a few years ago, PR experts were largely concerned with monitoring any negative comments they might carry. But now the attention has shifted to using them as positive marketing tools. Weblogs, or "blogs," are personal web pages on which people ("bloggers") offer opinions and links, usually to stories and other blogs, pertinent to a certain subject or subjects. Popular topics for blogs include technology, politics, culture, and the law (called "blawgs"). For marketers, there are two main ways of tapping into their reach: pitching established blogs or setting up a corporate blog. The trouble is, bloggers tend to view themselves as mavericks and, perhaps even more than regular journalists, don't like to be seen as bag-carriers for anyone. If your approach ticks them off, they may very well write about it on their site. Some bloggers cried foul earlier this year when Dr Pepper/7Up provided samples of its new sweetened-milk drink, Raging Cow, to hundreds of bloggers whose sites have mass appeal to teenagers and young adults. The company also flew five of the bloggers to its headquarters in Plano, TX. One site, Bloggerheads, responded with a call to boycott Raging Cow. Still, bloggers may be open to PR pitches, and their growing influence makes them the perfect viral marketing medium. Last year, for example, software company Cape Clear launched CapeMail, a free tool that allows users to do Google searches via e-mail. Tom Murphy, director of corporate communications, says the company decided to promote it strictly through blogs, with no other PR or advertising. So far, about 500,000 people have searched using CapeMail, and it has garnered coverage in The New York Times, San Jose Mercury News, The Guardian (UK), and several trade magazines. (Murphy also runs PR Opinions, a blog about the PR business.) When pitching a blog, as with other media outlets, be familiar with what it covers. See if the site has any directions for submitting news items. Never approach a blog by pretending to be a member of the community it serves. Phil Gomes, senior manager of technology programs at technology PR agency G2B Group, who also runs his own blog, says that when one client was offering a minor software upgrade, it wasn't worth a press release, but he decided to e-mail a few bloggers. "I was perfectly forthright," he says. "I said, 'I'm a PR guy. You might find this of interest.' And it was covered. I took the time to understand whether they would be open to that." One way to discover how bloggers would like to be approached, if at all, is to ask them. Earlier this year, The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, DC, e-mailed about 175 political bloggers, asking if it could send notices of Heritage studies, publications, and events. Mark Tapscott, director of media services, says that "certainly more than half" responded, and "most, at the very minimum, were open, and many were enthusiastic. Only two said no." Laura Goldberg, account supervisor for New York-based Trylon Communications, which specializes in media and technology, says her agency has compiled a list of bloggers, and it regularly communicates with them. Rather than send press releases, it tends to alert them to pieces that may mention clients, or to articles in magazine client Business 2.0. Indeed, the best way to pitch blogs may be to not pitch them at all. Instead, make sure you're getting in the news outlets the blogs link to. Check sites - like Blogdex and Daypop - that list the most blogged stories of the day. Google recently announced that it will create a separate search tool for blogs, which will help marketers gauge what news is important to bloggers. The other positive approach to weblogs is for a company to establish its own presence in the blogosphere. Doing so can help promote a corporation or individual employee as a thought leader. It's also a way to position the firm as open and friendly. But a company shouldn't do a blog without serious commitment and something new to say at least a few times a week (daily is even better). It must also know the needs of the audience it wants to reach. For example, BostonWorks.com, the employment-ads site of The Boston Globe, offers two blogs - The Job Blog, aimed at job seekers, and The HR Blog, for human resources personnel. Most companies will choose to locate their blogs at their websites, but Mike Rosenthal, VP at Hill & Knowlton, suggests that companies consider using one of the many blog-hosting services that have established communities. These include Blogger, LiveJournal, MovableType, and Userland's Radio UserLand and ManilaSites. Whoever is chosen to run the blog should be excited to do it, write and research well, and already spend a lot of time on the web. Software maker Macromedia, believed to be the pioneer of corporate blogging, having started it about a year ago, has seven "evangelists," or developers, blogging on the DevNet section of the company's site. In February, Alan Meckler, chairman and CEO of JupiterMedia, began a blog about putting together the company's Computer Digital Expo in Las Vegas in November - a show that will compete directly with Comdex. JupiterResearch also has more than a dozen analysts maintaining blogs. "I think a lot of companies, over time, will understand that this is another way to reach a market or potential customers who they don't see in another way," Meckler says. Rebecca Blood, blogger and author of The Weblog Handbook, advises companies to maintain a blog internally for a week or so to build up material and skill (this exercise may not be wasted, since experts predict that internal blogs will become more popular as employee communications tools). "I advise even personal webloggers to do it secretly for a while," says Blood. "Once you go public, you want stuff for people to read. You want to find out whether you enjoy doing it. Weblogs take more time than people realize." ----- A blog directory Blog-tracking sites: http://blogdex.net; www.daypop.com Blog-hosting services: www.blogger.com; www.livejournal.com; www.movabletype.org; www.userland.com Corporate blog guidelines: www.ozzie.net/blog/2002/08/24.html Some blogs featured here: Alan Meckler: http://weblogs.cdxpo.com/meckler/ Tom Murphy's PR Opinions: www.natterjackpr.com Phil Gomes Blogservations: www.philgomes.com/blog/index.htm Rebecca Blood: www.rebeccablood.net BostonWorks' The Job Blog: http://bostonworks.boston.com/blog/ BostonWorks' The HR Blog: http://bostonworks.boston.com/blog/hr/ Macromedia: www.macromedia.com/devnet/ JupiterResearch: http://weblogs.jupiterresearch.com/

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