The attention PR pros are giving to the power of blogs and the influence of the blogosphere is understandable and justified. By all reports, individual points of view have leapfrogged public confidence in what companies and institutions say; and blogs have made every individual a publisher.
My concern, though, is that by focusing on what's new, we may be overlooking what's true.
Should a company be aware of what is being said and who is saying it? Sure.
Should the company have people who participate in the discussion? That's OK, too.
However, is there a chance a company can prevent something from taking root in the blogosphere? Nope. As an indication, it could not be done even before the blogosphere's "big bang."
Think about the stories of satanic symbolism in the P&G logo, spider eggs in Bubble Yum, or prune juice in Dr. Pepper. (That last one is from the 1930s.) All pervaded nicely, thank you, well before the blogosphere. All required diligent, consistent, and sometimes legal response. All required a review of practices and engagement with the media of the moment. All tested the faith of each company's constituents.
And that is the point. The traps today may be digital, but the best communications strategy remains flesh and blood. When someone speaks ill of you, who will refute it?
Technology is putting pressure on the most un-technological aspects of a company. Do we have positive values? Are we living by those values? Do we have a track record that can help make a misstep an event and not an ongoing saga? Did we move quickly to repair the damage?
Like a mayor, governor, or senator, communications executives ought to be dealing with the blogosphere by getting in front of it; by getting our own houses in order, as these days they are all made of glass.
Today, as it always has, it requires getting closer to employees, customers, partners, and investors - the full set of a company's constituents. And everyday requires proof of the promises we have made, even though, unlike in politics, success can come at less than a vote of 50.1%.
What the blogosphere has done is remove the last thin wall that prevents what companies say and do from being seen and heard by individuals anywhere. But the response can't just be to do a better job of writing or responding to blogs.
The truth may be that we are all more likely to believe the worst in others. I don't know how that happened, but there it is. Rather than wait for an eruption, create the blue-ribbon panel now to investigate before the breach. Convince your constituents now that you mean what you say and say great things. Now.
Understand that violating your values or principles creates an opportunity for the blogosphere to hold sway.
Eliminating the opportunities for mischief and aligning your constituents to respond when it happens - and it will surely happen- is still the best way to protect corporate reputation.
Just call it a "pre-blog blog strategy."
John Berard is managing director of Zeno Group.