Someone recently gave me a great piece of advice.
Want to know when a technology has moved from “early adopttion” to the mainstream? Here’s a hint, it’s not when the bloggers tell you, but rather it’s when the industry conferences and seminars for that topic cease to exist. I think that’s not a bad indicator, after all, we don’t see many “Internet” or “Multimedia” conferences any more. Of course things are never quite that simple.
A common theme from conversations I have with PR people around the new online tools and channels, is how do we find the relevant outlets and how do we know if our market is ready?
I’m afraid there’s no one easy answer. The best answer I can provide, is that of the indecisive: it depends.
I think that podcasts, although not as populous or mature as the blog, are probably a tool that is applicable to more markets, audiences, and people than many imagine.
As Neville regularly tells us, it really is only restricted by your imagination. If your target audience has an Internet connection and speakers, they could be ready for some clever podcasts.
The question of blogs is far more complex. Are blogs “ready”? Well first and foremost let’s ask the question: Are they ready for what exactly?
Sometimes we make the mistake of treating blogs purely as an alternative or supplemental media channel. This is misguided, blogs serve many purposes. Here’s just a few:
- Internal Comms: Blogs can start working for your organization today as a fast and easy way of communicating and building conversations among your people. For example, in larger companies the HR Director could use a blog to discuss HR issues, plans and ideas and could then gather feedback from staff directly. With RSS (see below), blogs can also offer a powerful communications mechanism - not at the expense of meetings, face-to-face communication etc. but as a useful, timely addition.
- Staff: This is twofold. Firstly there’s the obvious idea of getting your staff to blog and provide a “human face” on your organization. This is something technology firms do increasingly well. There are many benefits from pure promotion to better conversations with your customers and ad hoc research. But there’s another side to this. Many large companies are facing an environment where their staff are blogging independently. This can often raise issues. How will you handle those bloggers?
- Blog Relations: The most obvious is an addenum of media relations. The pitching of bloggers who are covering your area. This is where people often get agitated. In early adopter markets such as Technology and Politics, there are already influential bloggers in place, but for slower markets there’s often a discussion whether it’s worth the effort. My advice is to do some research, talk to customers and partners, do some searching, try and find out are there bloggers in your market and geography who are impacting opinion. You might be surprised, but equally it may be too early.
- Executive Blogging: This is related to employee blogging, though often it will provide a more corporate perspective. This is not a “tick box” activity. Unless your executive has something interesting to say and is willing to invest in it, you’re best avoiding it. If they are committed and have something to say then start today. I think that Sun’s Jonathan Schwartz is the stand-out example in this category.
- Web page or the Long Tail Blogging: Rather than talking about blogs, let’s talk about content. Blogs are great for search engine optimization. Chances are if your customer finds a blog post via a search engine, they won’t even know it’s a blog. They’ll just think it’s a web page. As the volume of content grows and search engines improve I think that the “fresh” element of blogging will become less important for a large proportion of blogs. Instead the “back catalogue” will become more important. People can find their way to your content a variety of ways and it’s not always the front door.
- Creative Blogging: While most blogs require time and resources, in some cases we’re going to see more event-driven blogs. For example if you’ve a community project running over a set time period then you might have a blog, which you’ll archive after the event is completed. People need to spend time thinking about the blogs they’re creating. How can they be interesting? How can they appeal to the audience? I don’t believe any company can’t have an appealing and effective blog, I just don’t think they’re trying hard enough.
Really Simple Syndication is a powerful technology that can literally save hours every day. The problem is that it remains difficult to explain in simple terms and it’s still a little difficult to use for the uninitiated. As software applications and services make it easier to connect to RSS, and an increasing volume and variety of content becomes available in RSS feeds, I think eventually we’ll see mass adoption. If you’re in PR, and I don’t say this often, ignorance of RSS is a hindrance. This will save you real billable hours.
Measurement in the online world is far more complete than off-line. You can track visitors, referrals, downloads etc. meaning you can start to see how your efforts are actually impacting your audience – this is a powerful weapon for PR people – don’t ignore it.
There’s no one answer. The applicability of these tools is dependant on your market, your resources, your creativity – and often a mix of the three. My advice is to explore the possibilities – you might be surprised.