We all hear the industry buzzwords. They include blogs, newsrooms, podcasting, measurement and others. It isn't until our budgets and schedules allow us to perform due diligence, do we fully understand the extent of what they mean—and whether or not they are worthwhile to us as corporate communicators. As time progresses, we find that some of these fashionably tagged ideas are revolutionary, while others are only waning trends.
One of the greatest sources of confusion to the corporate communicator is the Web log, generally known as the blog. As most know, a blog is a personal, uncensored, online journal published by an individual. Blogs are considered by some as cogent editorial forums that public relations professionals should heed.
However, the blog differs from a legitimate media source because it doesn't contain objectivity and a check and balance of facts, as is the normal editing process for most major publications. This means that one person can have an effect on the opinion of a mass audience if his/her blog is extremely popular. This can be hazardous to a corporation if that individual targets its product or service maliciously, whether misinformed, angry or just plain unscrupulous.
Also, blogs can lead to unprofessional behavior from so-called specialists. Egocentric writers begin to abuse the power of publishing with unfounded, boastful rants and raves, attacking competitors unfairly and foolishly insulting clients.
Blogs can become a human relations headache, as well. For example, a Google employee complained that the company's health plan was deficient, and that Google's free dinner offer was a seduction to work longer hours. The employee was fired and Google was accused of overreacting. Even though the employee lost his job, he became well-known and was quickly mustered by Amazon, Yahoo and Plaxo. Google had to deal with negative press.
Ironically, survey results gathered by organizations expose that blogs are not as popular as the buzz suggests. The Pew Research Center reports that only 27% of Internet users in America actually read blogs (2004). Forrester Research found that only 6% of online consumers read blogs (2005), and results from the TEKgroup International, Inc. "Online Newsroom Survey” (2006) reveal that only 18% of journalists surveyed visit blogs for research.
Yet, the blog does provide another avenue to disseminate the company's message. Blogs are now considered an independent form of media that can be pitched. The positive characteristic behind blogs is that they are Internet based and immediate. They may be electronically monitored by corporate communicators—and they should be—as illustrated by the well-publicized Kryptonite case. A product security defect was detected and published by a blogger. The communicators became aware of it and were able to deal rapidly with the crisis.
Another good use of a blog is to create a celebrated personality of one of the company's executives or employees. Ford Motor Co. realized that Mustang owners comprised an avid audience that would enjoy postings from electrical engineers, suspension engineers and product development managers of their favorite vehicle. These experts share their experience with the same passion for the Mustang as the owner. Personality-type blogs should always be reviewed by the communicator so that flamboyant luminaries abide by company policies.
In conclusion, make sure you have a reason to produce a company blog. Don't feel pressured to jump on the bandwagon. You will have to decide if your company's blog is going to be product-, service- or personality-related. Then you will have to decide if it's going to be a regular blog, a wiki, a K-log (knowledge management blog) or any of the other various types. Public relations professionals are already rightfully bewailing the pressures of additional responsibilities. As with any other business venture, decide if you have the resources to dedicate, if it detracts from your core responsibilities, and whether or not there is a return on investment, tangible or intangible.
Ibrey Woodall is the director of marketing/sales for TEKgroup International, Inc ., providers of online newsrooms for the public relations industry. She is an active speaker at public relations events and contributor to public relations publications. She can be reached at 954.351.5554 x105 or firstname.lastname@example.org.