Caught in the ever-changing winds of social media while working in a Web 2.0 world, many PR firms are feeling pressured to respond to early demands from customers and the industry, but are faced with some level of indecision.
Should everyone have a blog? How do you know who is reading them? And if you don't have a blog of your own, how do your protect your interest in the space composed by the so-called citizen journalists who have become the powerful force behind the growing blogosphere?
If you have taken the time to ask these questions then you are likely not too far behind your competition. So before you charge blindly into the unknown, let's review a few disciplined steps you can be taking now to get your feet wet.
Your first step towards embracing the opportunities provided by social media should be to participate. This does not mean that you have to create a blog (corporate or personal), but that you should start reading blogs.
If you are not already using RSS to monitor the buzz about your clients you need to start now. Use Google or Technorati to find bloggers covering your clients specifically or their industry in general, then subscribe to their feed.
As soon as you start monitoring, you are bound to find fans, as well as foes, with various levels of expertise. Resist the temptation to be frustrated by those who "got it wrong." Instead, keep reading to find the ones that really "get it" and have a following.
Your second step towards participation should be to comment. When you agree with a well-made point, say so. If you have additional information to add, send that along. But you must resist the temptation to promote. This is not an advertising campaign; it is a conversation. Formal writing filled with official messages from the company will not only offend your audience but are likely to get your comment blocked or worse, identified as spam.
Over time you should be able to shorten the number of feeds that you closely monitor as you identify those experts and influencers that are important to your business. Then your task becomes one of developing relationships with these key bloggers - much like the relationships you already have with some traditional media - but in this space you have to remember the rules are different.
Bloggers are not bound by the same ethics and protocols of an advertiser-sponsored publication, so while they may treat you as a trusted source of information, they will be just as willing to point out your flaws in a very public manner. This doesn't make them your adversaries, just individuals who are, by their nature, inclined to be genuine and transparent in their approach.
Don't let the uncertainties of social media leave you on the sidelines. This is just another (albeit vastly different) medium filled with opportunities for you to leave positive impressions and sometimes sway personal opinions with members of a diverse audience.
Take a polite, professional, and honest approach to social media participants and in return you may find great success.
Who knows, someday soon your monthly client reports may be evaluated by the number of mentions by key industry bloggers instead of by columnists from the dailies and business publications.
Peter Baron is founder/principal of Carabiner Communications.