Beyond the Hype:
and All That Stuff
Many years ago, in "Paperback Writer,"
Mark Shipper's wonderful satirical
biography of the Beatles, we learned that
the Fab Four changed pop music forever
with their hit album, "We're Going To
Change Pop Music Forever."
Well, for those of us in the PR business, now every hour brings another e-mail plugging some seminar on RSS, blogs and all the other tools that are going to change PR forever.
In truth, these tools, in and of themselves, don't radically change the nature of public relations practice. But they are important. More than a decade after the advent of e-mail, online technologies are finally blowing apart some long-held notions of what "the media" is, and how PR practitioners can reach their audiences.
Space doesn't permit an exhaustive review of the new techniques in this newsletter, but here's a quick overview - and some thoughts on where communicators go from here.
Blog - Condensed from "web log." This is a regularly updated, one- or two-way communication presented through a website. At its heart, a blog is nothing complicated at all - it's a series of postings from somebody who wants to spread the word about something. Readers may, or may not, respond, depending on what the creator wants. This style of communication has been around the Internet for years, on bulletin boards and such, but new technologies now make it very easy for virtually anybody to put up a blog of their own.
For strategic communicators, the blog explosion means two things. It's a new (and easy) tool to use to share your organization's point of view with the world. But more importantly, it means literally thousands of new "media outlets" to watch and communicate with. In
the blogosphere, anyone with an internet connection can become a worldwide authority on any topic. And importantly, mainstream reporters are now not only reading blogs, but quoting them in their reporting, just as they would quote a report from The New York Times.
RSS - Really Simple Syndication. This is a system by which computer users can receive instant updates from various websites or blogs they're interested in. For instance, rather than having to remember to check dozens of websites you want to monitor, you can subscribe to their RSS feeds, and you'll be notified instantly every time they're updated. These updates can appear either in your newsreader software (a queue separate from, although similar to, your e-mail software), or on the web at any number of "personal" pages you can set up, such as My YahooTM.
Perhaps the greatest applicability of RSS for communicators is the ability to quickly
monitor what's being said about your company or your competitors. Some observers also believe that journalists will adopt RSS feeds as their preferred method of receiving press releases and such, since their e-mail inboxes are so filled with spam. Since you have to subscribe to an RSS feed in order to receive it, in theory, you can't be bombarded with stuff you don't want. However, RSS seems slow to catch on with the media. An informal Hayslett Group survey of Georgia journalists found only about one in 10 using it regularly.
Wiki - Shorthand for a collaborative, public site or project. The most famous is the Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit or contribute to. In this way, users of the content actually shape the content. And yes, that means some things you read in wiki world aren't true.
What This Means To You - These new online tools are just that - tools. They help communicators (PR pros and otherwise) reach many people in fast and engaging ways. You and your company don't necessarily need a blog just because everyone else is getting one. What you do need to do is communicate - and these tools are part of any modern communicator's tool kit. And if you are not communicating regularly and electronically with people who might have an interest in your company or product, you're missing not just an online trend, but a crucial business opportunity.