Blogging and PR Career Advancement

Every PR practitioner should be familiar with blogging, just as every credible practitioner, regardless of their specialization, must be familiar with the essentials of media relations, effective writing, measurement and the other fundamentals of our business.

Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson had a good discussion of whether blogging gives the PR practitioner an advantage in landing a PR job or in career advancement.

I think that we are still in the early days of blogging. The ignition point, in my view, will be when Internet Explorer 7 hits desktops and the other 90% of the world suddenly start to see the orange RSS button alongside their favorites icon.

When this happens, social media will be recognized as a communications channel as essential to the well-rounded public relations program as are media relations, websites, speeches, special events, direct mail and word of mouth. And blogging will become “business normal.”

I believe that, as an employer, my company has an obligation to encourage all of the practitioners in my firm to explore blogging. As a minimum, everyone must be familiar with it as a communications channel. And those who have the inclination, passion and viewpoint necessary to express their own voice must be given the tools to explore active participation in the conversation.

Understanding and saying this is the easy part. But what do we do to actually help people to explore and engage in social media?

Well, several things.

At my firm, Thornley Fallis Communications, I’ve assumed the role of chief cheerleader for social media. I’ve started my own internal and public blogs to underscore that social media are important to our future and that our firm is totally committed to embracing and using blogs, wikis, podcasts and other tools.

I’ve been joined in this by several of the members of our leadership team. David Jones explores working in and on the PR industry from a Canadian perspective and our 76design team talk about new projects, new ideas and new discoveries in a group blog. Soon, Terry Fallis and David Jones will be launching a podcast profiling the leaders of the Canadian PR consulting community.

So, we’re walking the talk by actively engaging in the conversation.

We’ve allocated resources to research social media and install testbed internal wikis and blogs.

We’ve researched newsreaders and adopted FeedDemon as our corporate standard, encouraging everyone to install it on their desktop.

We’ve subscribed to webinars on social media and organized “lunch and learns” to share our impressions and experiences.

Now, we are taking a next step: We are setting up a blog for each and every one of our employees. Junior to senior. Frontline client servicers to backend accounting staff.

We’re making these blogs available behind our firewall so that anyone who has the inclination to test their voice can do it in the safety of our corporate environment. We’re encouraging people to use their blogs to share project information, to express opinions on business issues, to entertain, whatever they want.

I know that many people will not post to their internal blogs. That’s OK. Active blogging isn’t for everyone. But we’re making the tool available in the same way that we offer all our employees media monitoring services, media list generation databases and word processors and spreadsheets.

I’d be interested in hearing what other PR consulting firms are doing in this regard.

Blogger relations & transparency: A must-listen/read for PR practitioners

PR practitioners should not miss Shel Holtz’s and Neville Hobson’s discussion of the issues raised in the Edelman/Wal-Mart blogger relations controversy.

Shel and Neville kicked off a spirited discussion in the For Immediate Release Podcast 118. Many listeners (including me) kept the conversation going with comments on the FIR blog.

Shel Holtz posted on his own blog, a shel of my former self, a response to those who question the legitimacy of companies presenting their viewpoint to bloggers. In fact, Shel asserts, “Organizations have every right to engage in the conversation.”

For his part, Neville posted several times , arguing for full disclosure and transparency. One of Neville’s posts drew 29 comments.

Finally, Neville and Shel closed the circle with an update on For Immediate Release 119.

Shel and Neville, thanks for the great discussion. You’ve provided a gathering point for many of us to come together to consider the important underlying issues. This is what social media is supposed to be about!

Lesson from Edelman Wal-Mart – Have your own voice

It’s fair game to deliver information directly to bloggers. But … and it’s a big but, true transparency requires that you should be prepared to publish for all to see anything you’re prepared to send to a selected blogger.

Blogger relations. Yes, it’s every bit as legitimate as media relations. However, the rules and conventions are not the same.

The news media are competitive. They thrive on exclusives and being first to market with news.

Blogs are about building a community. The point of this community is opinion and exchange. And the tactics and approaches of media relations are not strictly transferable to this community. It requires rules and practices that respect its particular nature.

So, a company wants to influence the views of opinion-leading bloggers. That’s a legitimate objective.

And emailing information directly to opinion leaders is an effective way to get it in front of them. They might not see it on your own blog. But, that brings us back to the big but: true transparency requires that you should be prepared to publish for all to see anything you’re prepared to send to a selected blogger. And to be able to do this in the blogosphere requires that you have your own blog. A place where you can post your point of view, your information, for all to see.

That’s where Wal-Mart came up short. They used their PR firm’s bloggers and the credibility those bloggers had built up to speak directly to other bloggers. But for the rest of us, people outside of their carefully targeted direct blogger pitch, we could not see what the company was up to. The fact that their activity was discovered resulted from the slipshod practices of a few bloggers who quoted verbatim from the material Edelman/Wal-Mart provided to them, without attribution.

So, true transparency was not achieved. And the resultant uproar should prove a cautionary tale for all.

The bottom line: Avoid shortcuts. If you conclude that the blogosphere is important to you, establish your own voice first. Go ahead, contact the bloggers who you think are the most influential. But let the rest of the world see that you are prepared to say in public what you private encourage an intermediary to talk about.

The Google Sandbox

Ted Demopoulos talks about his experience in the Google Sandbox – “a purgatory like state, in which a new or penalized site is spidered by the Google bots, accumulates backlinks and page rank, but does not appear in Google searches for appropriate keywords. . . .”

Ted reports that four months after its launch, Blogging for Business is finally out of the sandbox and that he is beginning to receive visitors through the search engine.

His advice to new bloggers: “How do you “get out of the sandbox?” Wait, there’s nothing else you can do.”

Social Marketing: Toronto AIMS Seminar with Shel Israel

AIMS (Association of Internet Marketing and Sales) took advantage of Shel Israel’s presence in Toronto to organize a session on social marketing.

In addition to Shel Israel, the other featured speakers were:

  • Mark Evans, a senior technology reporter with the National Post. His principal blogs are Mark Evans,a Canadian take on telecom and technology and All Nortel, All the Time, a blog about all things Nortel.
  • Amber MacArthur, co-producer and co-host of Call for Help,a daily one-hour TV show on G4TechTV. She also produces commandN, a weekly web/tech news video show online and Inside the Net, a weekly podcast ; and
  • Jon Husband, visionary and evangelist for Vancouver blogging software company Qumana Inc.. He contributes to Qumana’s blog as well as his personal blog, Wirearchy.
  • Some takeaways:

    Mark Evans:

  • Why do I blog? First and foremost, it’s a branding exercise for me and what I do. I have bigger plans beyond the National Post. Unfortunately, the National Post has a backward approach to blogging. They are just getting into it now. And I’ve felt the need to lead them. … Networking. I’m a small fish in a big pond. Blogging allows me to get my thoughts out there, maybe get some credibility and maybe the New York Times will hire me sometime.
  • Revenue: I’m not in it for the money. Although I have Adsense, I make about a dollar a day.
  • Newspapers and blogging: Canadian papers are way behind the U.S. The Toronto Star is most advanced in blogging. The Globe and Mail is a close second and the National Post is way behind.
  • Advice for PR/Marketing practitioners: Jump into Blogging. You don’t have to write one, but read them every day. Engage them. Talk to them. Ask them to talk to you.
  • Corporate Blogs: I have an issue with CEO blogs. In the era of Sarbanes Oxley, most CEO’s cannot say what they feel. Legal and IR filter them and they seem stale.
  • Evans also reminded the audience of the Web 2.0 conference May 8/9 in Toronto. Check out Mark’s blog for more info on this.

    Amber MacArthur

  • Podcasting has expanded my audience internationally whereas previously on television it was only national.
  • Why would I waste time making a podcast if I can’t make money from it? Eventually, there will be opportunities to make money from advertising. I have an advertiser. It doesn’t give me much money, maybe enough to go out to dinner once in a while.
  • 12 to 20 minutes is a good time to get into a topic without going too long. I tune out of the hour long podcast.
  • Jon Husband

  • Pleasantville is the best movie about the effects of the internet and it doesn’t have a single computer in it.
  • First they will ignore you (was done). Then they will ridicule you (was done). Then they will fight you (in process). Then they will lose.
  • Shel Israel

  • Most C-level people just can’t do it. Their primary obligation is to shareholders. They may be constrained in what they can do.
  • The best bloggers are the people, like Robert Scoble, who are able to express themselves, have knowledge and have a lot of heart.
  • We trust people who are like we are.
  • Human nature is to want to have a conversation. Now for the first time, we can have conversations on a global level with people who care about what we want to talk about.
  • Perhaps we can call this “Mass micro-marketing.”
  • Web 2.0 companies in their early stages don’t need PR. They should blog. The blogosphere can capture the imagination of people; word of mouth will get the message out.
  • Thanks to AIMS Toronto for organizing this session.

    Shel Israel and Jim Estill on Blogging for Executives

    AIMS (Association of Internet Marketing and Sales) hosted a session on Blogging for Executives in Toronto today. Featured speakers were Shel Israel, co-author of Naked Conversations, and Jim Estill, CEO of SYNNEX Canada and a Director of RIM.

    The session was aimed at Directors, Vice Presidents and above. About thirty people attended.

    Shel Israel provided an introduction to the what and why of blogging. Each participant at the session received a copy of Naked Conversations. Either most of the participants have already totally assimilated the content of the book or they have yet to read it. Whatever the explanation, there were few questions directed to Israel. In fact, at one point he asked himself a couple questions just to be able to answer them. (Come on Toronto, we can do better.)

    The audience was much more animated in their response to Jim Estill. Questioners probed Estill’s motivation in becoming a CEO blogger and his assessment of the experience. Several of the questioners also asked for Estill’s advice on dealing with the resistance of legal departments and cautious executives. The conclusion I took away is that, at least in Toronto, business blogging has not yet reached the point of normalization.

    A few takeaways from the session:

  • Shel Israel’s advice on selling blogging to a CEO: “Using a conversation to demonstrate thought leadership won’t work; using a blog to enter into a conversation to generate better thoughts will work.”
  • Jim Estill said his original objective in blogging was “to dispel the mystery about me as a CEO. Now, I get personal email from employees – and customers too – who know me through the blog. … One good thing that comes of this is that people feel they know me. When they feel they know me, they want to do business with me. On the down side, there are thousands of people who think they know me and I don’t know them.”
  • Estill says that his blog receives from 150 to 250 visitors on an average day; 1,000 on a day in which there is an event (e.g. RIM and NTP agreement; Fortune magazine interview)
  • Estill estimates that, out of SYNNEX’s 2500 employees, there are 30 bloggers, but probably only two who have persisted and become regular bloggers. The rest failed to persist beyond a few initial posts or they post rarely.
  • Estill in response to a question about how other CEOs and Board Directors react to his blogging: “CEOs and corporate don’t like it. They’re afraid you’re giving away insider information. Most CEOs also worry about the time commitment.”
  • Thanks to AIMS Toronto for organizing this session.

    Shel Israel expands focus of Naked Conversation to Web 2.0

    Shel Israel has returned from the New Communications Forum believing that blogging is entering a new phase, normalization.

    According to Shel,

    Blogging started as one of Seth Godin’s Purple Cows. I would still like to write about unique or valuable blogs–blogs that will help others find their way into the blogosphere. I hear about dozens of new blogs every week, but few, if any meet that criteria. I see blogs that are high quality, blogs that are good for the businesses and business topics they are designed to address but very few that are of Purple Cow uniqueness.

    In fact, this is a good thing, if you are a blogging evangelist. The blog is starting to become part of the business normal, just as email and the Internet did. Both of these early disruptive innovations are now boring because they are so much of the usual business routine. It was not all that long ago that having a website, or allowing employees to email on company time were highly controversial with legal departments fretting the repercussions just as they do today over blogging.

    The blog, it seems to me, is becoming just another brown cow. This again, is a good thing. First comes the excitement, then comes the prolongs inevitable change. This is what is supposed to happen. New things need to normalize if they are to endure if they are to really and truly change corporate communications as our book argues it will.

    So, Shel is expanding the focus of Naked Conversations beyond business and blogging to include Web 2.0.

    Web 2.0 is topically a natural extension of blogging. These companies are forming a “people’s web” where the blog allows an efficient conduit for two-way communications. What’s important here is not the conduit per se, but that it allows the customer to take his or her rightful place at the center of the corporation. As Charlene Li said in her conference keynote, the new technology puts the power at people’s fingertips, instead of into the hands of the corporation.

    I got into blogging because of its disruptive promise. Web 2.0 is a natural path that follows the lines of disruption and I’m going to follow down those line.

    I’m sure that Shel’s readership and community are eager to follow this path, learning and expanding our own horizons in step with him.