Online dialogues affect perceptions about companies. Elizabeth Krietsch looks at ways of managing the impact
Blogs, podcasts, wikis, and other applications of the ever-evolving online world have undergone a massive increase in popularity and attention in recent years. According to statistics on Technorati.com, 75,000 new blogs are created each day and 50,000 are updated each hour.
Subsequently, there is a daunting number of people rapidly becoming influencers to ever-increasing audiences. They can often be found speaking both positively and negatively as they tout opinions on products, brands, and companies.
These booming figures should prompt PR pros to learn all the techniques necessary to immerse themselves in this vastly interconnected atmosphere - and make the most of it.
It starts with an understanding of the work of these online influencers and an ability to capitalize on the fact that if interacted with correctly, they can be incorporated into successful PR work and campaigns.
"Feedback from bloggers - and any impartial reviewer -is valuable market research," says Mike Driehorst, media relations manager at the Lauerer Markin Group.
Keeping up on emerging online technologies and the developing media landscape is not as complex as it may seem. Tony Obregon, senior account supervisor, measurement and new media, at Cohn & Wolfe, recommends visiting media Web sites like The New Communications Review, to learn about media research and case studies impacting the PR world.
Developing positive relationships with online influencers is another key step. Obregon stresses the importance of maintaining transparency.
"You can't enjoy a long, solid relationship if you are not participating in the blogosphere and interacting with bloggers in the way they prefer," he says.
For example, unlike with traditional media, a direct pitch to online influencers is not always effective for getting exposure for a brand. Driehorst says PR pros should be up-front about what they hope to accomplish and seek feedback, but not necessarily demand influencers to discuss the product.
"We should act like we're offering information and access, and let bloggers decide what to do with it," he says, adding that "people who blog are naturally opinionated," so PR pros should let these influencers discuss a product on their own.
Another vital element for PR pros is keeping up with the online conversations that are taking place about the brands they represent. One of the easiest ways to do so is to simply spend time exploring and investigating the online world.
"Don't be afraid to experiment online," said Mike Manuel, social media strategist at Voce Communications. "It's better to experiment than to do nothing at all."
Today's technologies also make the task quite simple. "With tools like Factiva, [media monitoring service] Magenta, RSS feeds, newsletter subscriptions, and keyword news alerts, there is no excuse for PR pros not to be on top of the online conversations around their clients," says Melissa Burns, principal at Mobility Public Relations.
Nathan Misner, account director at Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, is an advocate of setting up news alerts through search engines like Google and MSN. Subscribing to RSS feeds from particular blogs, Web sites, and podcasts is also a helpful way to keep up with online discussions.
Of course, online influencers may speak negatively about your client. In such cases, PR pros must know when and how to react. Misner recommends that companies monitor what people are saying about them and respond if the company's point of view is mischaracterized or slandered.
Manuel advises PR pros to make sure they're in a position where they can immediately recognize the negative influencer talk before it gets out of hand. He reminds people that they shouldn't be afraid to address the issue directly, however, he adds, not all situations call for action.
In fact, he says, intervention is not always wise. Sometimes addressing an issue can amplify it to a wider audience, whereas it might have simply died away quickly on its own. And sometimes a response may be mocked by the site that made the mischaracterization.
"The challenge is to find out when you can intercede and do something helpful, and when you can't," Manuel says.
Develop good relationships with online influencers, whether it be through e-mails, phone calls, IMs, or comments on their blog
Use RSS feeds and blog search services to keep up on conversations that mention your brand
Keep up on the ever-expanding world of online technologies, new tools, and how to use them
Pitch bloggers out of the blue without having established a sincere relationship
Respond to negative online coverage in a threatening or accusatory manner
Post blog comments that are merely pitches for your client and are otherwise irrelevant to the posted conversation