Can PR and Blogging peacefully coexist?

Posted on 07 April 2010

Continuing my “Historical Perspective” series, this article was originally published on August 27, 2003 at a time when more and more PR professionals were starting to take their first steps into the Blogosphere. This was before the Global PR Blogweek and at a time when corporations were starting to realize the potential (for better or worse) of participatory journalism and the Long Tail.

In case you aren’t aware, PR professionals are making their way into the blogosphere and they are slowly becoming aware of the potential that blogs represent. I have to admit that I have been pulled into this myself but I would like to remain objective, I want to remain an individual, first and foremost.

This is an interesting time for the Web: corporations are realizing that there is more to the Internet than just e-commerce, they are starting to wake up to the fact that one person’s words can make or break their image and a successful, traditional PR and marketing campaign may flop completely when brought Online.

Personally, I’m not one who wants to promote a product or company simply because I’ve been hired to sell a product, clean up someone’s sullied image, or try to sway market opinions in favor of a distasteful product (like the campaign to change “prunes” into “dried plums”, for example — whatever you call them they still taste like crap and give you the shits). Blogging, for me, is about personal expression and the freedom to write what you feel. Bloggers are going to have to come to the realization that, as more corporations and their lackeys increase their proficiency with all things Web, the “little guy” is going to be lost — the universal democratic hopes of the Internet will fade in favor of targeted messaging and over-arching branding campaigns. Blogs are already becoming more specialized in their focus as each one attempts to gain a minute toehold in blog readership; this trend is apt to continue to the point where, excepting a few instances, blogs will not be the domain of the individual but of the collective, controlled by a few key players. Let me point out that by “few” I am speaking in Internet terms — this “few” may represent a thousand or more Web sites which are run and controlled, either directly or indirectly, by collectives such as PR firms, a marketing agencies, or corporations.

What I am envisioning is the death of the blog as a medium of individual creativity, in favor of gangs of “brand supporters” who all work together to increase a company’s brand recognition or help increase the marketability of a product. For example, let’s refer back to the dried plums that I spoke of earlier: what I see are any number of “bloggers” set up to write about how wonderful the product is. These “bloggers” are hired by an agency to shore up the image of a product and they write about it in the informal way used by blogs. In one day’s entry they may discuss (in scientific terms) the physiological benefits of dried plums, point to a study about how wonderful dried plums are for the digestive system, and then (anecdotally) expound upon the health wonders dried plums. In the next day’s entry they may discuss another client and how wonderful their product is (say Firestone tires). By creating a realistic online identity, with a few foibles and personality traits, and alternating between a few key client messages, each individual blogger will develop a personality that is both believable and authoritative. Tie a number of these together and you have a high-powered reputation machine.

Marketers and PR professionals who blog should aim for transparency — the public shouldn’t know you are selling something until it is too late. Successful PR campaigns will no longer need to be based upon the tired, old press release and more on the behind-the-scenes, guerrilla propaganda that a blog entry can provide (press releases will still have their place, they will just be supplemented by the informal writing style of a blog). Think about it terms of ROI: why take the time to write a single press release that has to be marketed to journalists (who may have absolutely no interest in what you are discussing) versus having a team of PR professionals with blogs who can tirelessly discuss your product with few to no restraints.

The largest impact for such “gang” PR blogging would be in the ability to trackback, ping, and cross-link to the blogs of others. By doing so, one increases their “trust-factor” with their audience. Your claims may be scientifically unproven or brazenly untrue, but your simple reference to the writings of others will add to the believability of your story. Most people on the Internet take the information that they find at face-value and don’t delve any deeper than one or two links. By cross-linking to others in your “gang” who are providing similar information, each blogger contributes to the collective “truth” until there is mass buy-in.

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