I started my career with an IBM Selectric typewriter, a telephone and mimeograph machine. So you can imagine how far things have come in my world. In the mid ‘80s we transitioned to computers and transmitting documents via fax machine. Even that seems ages ago. Cell phones were brand new for the average consumer in the very late ‘80s/early ‘90s — and they were enormous and “just” phones. And, yes electronic mail (email) is even newer than that.
So, I’ve had to learn a lot of new things over the years but it’s part of the fun of being a public relations professional. We need to stay abreast of what’s happening in the world. We need to be able to understand and address how new products and trends will affect our clients and organizations.
Blogging is one of those trends that we’ve been watching for a while. I started this blog a bit over a year ago. Toss in social media, add the pressures on traditional media companies and it’s easy to see how blogging has become a way of life/profession for many. Even traditional media professionals have blogs where they extend their own reach and influence beyond the television screen, radio waves or printed newspaper.
Just what is a blog and how is it different from a news story?
It surprises me when I still find myself counseling clients regarding blogs, bloggers and blogging.
According to dictionary.com, a blog is a “website containing the writer’s or group of writers’ own experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other websites.” It’s not a news story from a journalist that has been placed on the website of a traditional news outlet, although many journalists do also blog. Those who comment on news stories on regular blogs are also not bloggers. They are simply people who comment on a news story, and can do so anonymously.
Here’s a sampling of questions and comments I get regularly. I hope you’ll add yours and tell me what you think about the answers:
It’s just a blog, so who cares
The short answer is – you do. But the long answer is that many of today’s bloggers have tremendous reach and influence with their readers. They might even have more influence than traditional media. Look at Gini Dietrich whose public relations/marketing blog garners several hundred comments a day. If I had a product or service that would make communicators’ lives easier, I would certainly include outreach to Gini in my media relations plan. Every profession has a blog that’s a must read. Know who they are. Read them regularly. Cultivate a relationship with the blogger. Leave a comment or 2 or 15.
They don’t check their facts; it’s just opinion
Normally, a client who feels this way has been the subject of someone’s writing they feel was not objective. Sometimes it’s not even on a blog but instead a news story where anonymous comments can be completely free of fact. However, the vast majority of bloggers are well meaning and good intentioned individuals building a community. They can provide valuable access to a business’ customers. Most try their hardest to be factual and will understand if you politely correct their facts.
Bloggers aren’t journalists
According to dictionary.com, a journalist is “a person who practices the occupation or profession of journalism.” So one could assume a blogger isn’t doing this because the traditional definition of journalism (and the first one on dictionary.com) is: “the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news or of conducting any news organization as a business.” While that may seem to be a reason to ignore bloggers, it’s important to realize that many people today are getting their information from the Internet. This is especially true of young people, who rarely watch network news or read a newspaper. The fact that a blogger is not a journalist certainly does not mean he/she is not influential. It just means those who are influential are constantly changing.
Do I really have to answer their questions?
This is one of my favorites since you, technically, don’t have to answer a blogger’s questions. But my question back to clients is…why wouldn’t you? Treat a blogger as you would a reporter and afford them the common courtesies you would journalists. Because their blog is likely not as formal a traditional newspaper or news program, many bloggers will freely mention that companies do/do not answer their questions. If you’re interested in building a relationship, answer the questions and see if the blogger has other issues to discuss. If a post is already published and you feel your answer to a follow-up question might be edited, feel free to answer as a comment on the blog. It’s another good way to start the conversation.
What about the comments?
Comments are another place on a blog where you can make/break friendships. It takes a little bit of guts to write that first comment but after a while it’s easy. Think of it as having a conversation with the blogger and the other commenter. Some “commenting systems” such as Livefyre encouraging ongoing conversation in a blog. Test out your comfort with commenting on a website that’s about a hobby or your community…somewhere not controversial. Then when you’re ready, move on to blogs about your organization, profession or company. Of course, once you comment on a blog, subscribe to the comments so you know what others are saying on that particular post. This way you know if someone has responded to your comment.
But won’t they just print “anything”?
The fact is bloggers are not bound by the same code of ethics as journalists, public relations professionals or many other professions. There have been discussions about creating a blogger’s code but the feeling is that those who need the code won’t abide by it anyway. And, in reality, there are very few of them. Further, those who are using their blog as their business or an extension of their business, do adhere to an ethical code for their own profession. It’s important that they do this in order to grow as a business…and a blogger.
So, don’t be afraid. Instead embrace the bloggers in your world. Enjoy their fun side.