Digital PR still represents a dark and daunting prospect for many. They know it is a journey they need to take, but they are not sure of the way or what they need for the trip - and while they have delayed setting off, the starting point has moved and the path ahead has begun to look increasingly tricky.
To many, it represents all the confusion of Alice's Wonderland - chasing an elusive white rabbit through a disorientating series of seemingly random scenarios, fraught with pitfalls and the fear of severe penalties if it all goes wrong.
Too many people jump in with a desire for a viral, blog, Facebook page or Twitter account without knowing why or what they are going to say.
At the other end of the scale are the people who just want to close their eyes and hope digital goes away. It won't - clocks do not turn backwards.
The best place to start is monitoring, which is often overlooked.
One thing you can be absolutely certain of is that your brand is already online. Good monitoring will tell you to what extent your brand is being discussed and what is being said about it.
If it is positive, get involved in the debate and amplify it. People will appreciate your involvement. If it is negative, knowing what you need to change and where is half the battle.
But even with Tweetdeck and Feedreader going full blast, professional communications and relationship advisers are still often unaware of all but a fraction of web pages that mention their clients. Does, for example, PR Week see all the citations that are published about it online - at the rate of one every 90 seconds 24/7?
The client's online web cloud grows every day. It is a competitive asset that creates a footprint for all to follow and affects the algorithms of search engines that make organisations searchable and famous.
We have come a long way -from monitoring online content using tools such as Google Alerts and RSS feeds, to monitoring all web-based content, in near real-time, then evaluating for actionable insights.
The internet stream of consciousness seems endlessly oppressive because the practitioner needs to follow all the conversations, while the users only follow one or two.
Publicasity has interesting capabilities, such as its web to IM service called GOD (General Overview of Digital), which provides real-time monitoring of every conversation in a simple and easily- digestible format.
We recommend five simple steps to monitoring effectively online.
First of all, you need to know what your digital sphere of influence is. Get a full 360 real-time audit that tracks every mention of your brand/s, analyse who is talking about you and in what context online. There are one-stop solutions that can make this arduous task simple.
Second, analyse the sentiment behind the conversation. How much is positive, negative or indifferent? What are the key topics being discussed?
Third, decide which conversations are important and how to respond to them in real time.
Fourth, keep up this momentum daily. It will take time, but it is invaluable to engaging and managing your brand reputation online.
And lastly, the consumer is king so, as a brand guardian, you need to ensure two-way dialogue and engagement is not only stimulated but managed effectively.
Digital monitoring is hard work and time-consuming. What I can tell you is that beyond the initial darkness of the rabbit hole and that first leap of faith, the digital Wonderland is a place in which great things can happen.
It is populated by countless communities of interesting characters, potential new brand advocates and friends. This is an exciting world in which to be.
- David Phillips is digital consultant at Publicasity.