PRs on blogs – some rules of engagement

18 Nov

I really enjoyed the discussion at the Travel-rants Blogcamp organised by Darrien Cronian last week.

I particularly enjoyed the final debate, kicked off by Kevin May from Travolution.
He pointed out that around 20 of the 80 or so people in the room -
ostensibly to debate and discuss blogging about travel - were from PR companies or worked in PR.

I
thought this was fascinating. It shows that PR people - at least the
ones who are switched on - are increasingly aware of the way that blogs
form opinions about their companies and clients.

Several PR
people asked for input about what the rules of engagement should be for
interacting with blogs. There was some suggestion that PRs making
comments on blogs was something that the bloggers didn't like. I
totally disagree. BUT there are a few things I'd suggest to any PR
reading this and thinking of jumping on to the blogosphere:

1) Add value to the discussion.

If
you just chuck a comment on a post so that you can get a plug in there
for your company then that's seriously bad. I think this is where some
of the heated feelings in the room during this part of the evening came
from. There is nothing more annoying for a blogger than to feel his/her
blog is being used by someone else merely to promote other
sites/companies/brands. It makes me seethe!

2) Decide what perspective you are writing from - and disclose

If
you're commenting, make clear whether you are commenting as a PR person
stating a company point of view or as an individual making your own
opinions. (You might want to say "Disclosure: I work for PR company XXX
and the company we are discussing is one of our clients.) This is
another potential hot potato if you don't make this clear. Nothing like
reading a bunch of comments from someone you've not come across on your
blog before and following links back to find they work for a PR company
but haven't admitted it.

3) Don't try and control the debate in any way

You aren't dealing with a newsroom of journos who are about to write
a huge headline. Your reputation as a good PR company is not on the
line (well not at the moment, blogs just aren't THAT influential YET)
Resist the urge to kick into damage limitation mode and counter every
opinion if
the debate is a bit negative. Make it clear who you are, add comments
and get involved, but let the debate continue. Watch and learn a bit.
This kind of stuff is gold dust! It could tell you a stack of stuff
that you'd normally spend a fortune on focus-grouping. 

4) Be credible

If
you are serious about engaging with an on-line community - great! I'd
love more comments on my blog from all ends of the spectrum... but
particularly from people who I know are commenting because they are
passionate about what's being debated and have valuable insight to
offer. You gain that credibility by reading other blogs in the same
sphere, and commenting. Blogging is about welcoming opinions from all
and I most certainly do.

5) Consider starting a blog of your own

There's
no better way to get your head round what works and what doesn't, what
makes people happy and what gets their backs up, what makes a great
post and what doesn't, than by taking the plunge and starting a blog
yourself. It's easy to set one up and believe me it will be worth the
investment - even if you only do it for 6 months or so and then decide
you can't keep it up. Whether this is a personal blog or a company one
needs some careful thought - and I'd encourage you to go through that
thinking process as you will begin to 'get' quite quickly some of the
subtleties of blogging. I have my personal blog and I also contribute to my company one.
I write about similar things, but I have to think a bit about my
audiences in these two quite different contexts and I have to be
careful about disclosing sensitive information (about clients for
example) on the company blog.

I really hope that this is useful
and doesn't sound patronising... It's most definitely offered in a
genuine and open way. Anyone got any other PR rules of engagement to
add?

6 Responses to “PRs on blogs – some rules of engagement”

  1. Fiona Cullinan 18. Nov, 2008 at 2:02 pm #

    A great intro for PRs - let's hope they find it, which they should with that lovely SEO header.

    I totally agree with engaging perhaps on a personal blog level before you do plunge it with size 10s on behalf of a client.

    I'd just add that, with more PRs turning on to Twitter - here's a wiki of UK PRs on Twitter - that they do the same there. It seems like an ideal place to just repost a pile of press releases. But without added value or targeted PR, they may be able to follow journalists and bloggers but they won't be followed back.

    I would suggest PRs set up two Twitter accounts - one personal one to accumulate a supportive PR community in which to bat ideas around, as well as journalist friends (accumulate not bat around!), then later on, set up the business version as a place to roll out that good practice.

    Most Tweeple don't want to receive relentless PR announcements on Twitter but that doesn't mean you can't practice PR...

    As more people tweet, the more restrictive they will become. Here's a popular Twitterer's policy on 'following' so you can get the idea:

    http://andrewdubber.com/2008/08/31/bad-form-as-a-social-media-strategy/

    Hope that helps.

  2. Jeremy Head 18. Nov, 2008 at 2:40 pm #

    Hi Fiona

    Thanks for your comments... That header was just what I wrote funnily enough... not thinking 'SEO' at all! But am increasingly thinking about it these days it has to be said...
    Twitter for me is a whole newer ballgame. I'm on there, but have yet to really 'get' it. I've just set Friendfeed up to ping a note to Twitter whenever I post on my blog... Probably awfully bad practice. I have been amazed at how many people are following me on there though. Remarkable.
    LastMinute.com were there at the Blogcamp and I know they have experimented with Twitter. Kevin blogged about it on the Travolution Blog and there was some lively debate too. Worth checking it out in detail: http://travolution.blogspot.com/2008/07/do-i-want-to-follow-lastminutecom-on.html
    Jeremy

  3. Gemma 18. Nov, 2008 at 4:40 pm #

    This is useful direction Jeremy.

    I'm a PR person for Auto Europe. We've got a blog and we're increasingly aware of how useful they can be as a way of developing relationships with customers. The problem for PR people is that we're always under pressure to get quick results. We need to demonstrate to our clients that we aren't wasting time, and that our work is giving them a visible return on investment.

    To avoid this kind of PR spamming in the future will take a wider general understanding that building blog relationships takes time, and can't involve direct plugging. The benefits won't be seen quickly, but they'll ultimately be worth waiting for.

  4. Sandwagon 18. Nov, 2008 at 5:01 pm #

    Hi Jeremy

    I wanted to say how positive Gemma's comment makes me feel. Having worked in travel, moons ago as a travel sales consultant and later as a Copywriter and later still as a guidebook Managing Editor, I'd concur that the need is always for the quick win. Copy that sells, a converted sale, back cover blurbs that make you head to the checkout. Sure, these rapid transactions hit the right buttons with the finance team in the short term, but long term customer loyalty achieved via the wonders of the web is a fantastic aim.

    I admit, there'll always be some consumers who'll want to pick holes in what some companies do. But surely engaging with consumers shouldn't present too many problems for travel related companies with a product that they can be proud of and a PR/blogger/voice who can take the rough with the smooth feedback in an open, honest fashion.

  5. Jeremy Head 18. Nov, 2008 at 5:49 pm #

    Hi Gemma
    Thanks for your comments. Really great to have someone from a PR agency commenting! My background is marketing too and I am all for developing deeper, more genuine relationships with customers (and readers!). At iCrossing where I work we are trying really hard to get our clients to invest some proper money in understanding the networks that surround them on-line. (commissioning us to do proper research and using some of our analytical tools to dig deeper into the inter-relationships between blogs, websites etc.) It's part of the same problem. If you want to get to know someone, that takes time and investment. I'd suggest though that it yields far better results. I think the challenge is to make clients appreciate this too.
    Is this PR in the more traditional sense of the term? Possibly not. Maybe in the future there will be a new discipline something along the lines of Social Media Comms Marketer or something?
    Interesting stuff.
    Jeremy

  6. Jeremy Head 26. Nov, 2008 at 12:54 pm #

    Hilarious. Nice one Discover Lugano! (see previous comment.) Read all my recommendations and then chuck a piece of spam on the bottom of the blog! AWESOMELY DUMB!