MySpace. YouTube. Podcasting. Blogging. All are terms of the social media world, which offers businesses new ways to reach out to new and/or larger audiences.
Let's define these using explanations provided by www.wikipedia.org:
MySpace: a social networking Web site offering an interactive, user-submitted network of friends, personal profiles, blogs, groups, photos, music, and videos internationally. www.myspace.com
YouTube: video-sharing Web site where users can upload, view and share video clips, including movies, TV clips, music videos and amateur content, such as videoblogging and short original videos. www.youtube.com.
Podcast: a collection of prerecorded audio or video files residing on the Internet, from where they can be automatically downloaded to subscribers' computers. Subscribers can access them offline at their leisure.
Blog: a Web site that provides commentary or news on a specific subject. A typical blog combines text, images and links to other blogs, Web pages and media related to its topic. In May, blog search engine Technorati was tracking more than 71 million blogs.
Blogging can be a powerful tool for any organization that wants dialogue with its customers or stakeholders because it carries communication from "real" people with "real" opinions. It can be good for product or service marketers because customer feedback can help to improve product/service design.
If an organization can handle the range of feedback (from glowing to hostile), customers love to be listened to by a company and become salespeople for the company, enhancing its word-of-mouth marketing.
The power of the blog is that you pick up my blog for your blog and so do others, and the number of people reached multiplies immensely. In addition, many blogs are feeding major media companies.
The flip side of the blog picture is the time it takes to create communication daily and the transparency upon which the world's blogging community bases its culture. As some have unhappily found out, it's a selfcorrecting culture.
My observation is that until you become truly tuned in to blogging, you should start by listening to conversations in the blogosphere. Next, assess whether you're ready to participate in blog conversations. Then assess whether your company should start its own blog, perhaps beginning with internal blogs in which internal teams communicate with each other, and senior executives talk with employees.
So, how do you decide if a blog is good for your business? I'm taking the liberty of borrowing and modifying questions that were offered by Jud Branam in the summer 2006 issue of The Public Relations Strategist as a basis upon which an organization should decide whether to start a blog:
Is your company armed with a point of view and a steady flow of content that can drive a blog on a regular basis?
Are your organization's leaders able to handle criticism and ready for all input (both positive and negative) that an online conversation will develop?
Can public input help your product development process?
Are your business and your industry open enough to engage in transparent conversation, or do industry regulations prevent you from discussing your business or require onerous levels of reporting if customers talk to you?
Is tough competition forcing you to seek a new outlet, or does your image need an upgrade, and is a mass market part of your strategy?
In your communications program, you might consider the change we are seeing in how we target story ideas in our public relations practice. We target traditional media as usual, but we now customize story ideas for specific blogs. The aim is to take advantage of the potential of multiple links to multiple blogs and their multiple audiences. The ultimate exposure would be accomplished should a journalist be inspired by blog discussion to do a story for a major media outlet.
What we are seeing now is media outlets hosting their own blogs on a range of topics. In addition, we are seeing blogs and Web sites that allow readers to submit information.
These media are opening opportunities for your business to spread its information farther and to more potential customers.
Millar is CEO of Millar Communication Strategies Inc., a public relations firm that offers strategic planning, including crisis planning/communication/recovery. She can be reached at 2500 One American Square, Indianapolis, IN 46282, or call 639-0442.