Reflective Journal

Considering the key task for my final assignment for Online Public Relations and Communication was to create a blog, I felt that it was only fitting to present my reflective journal about the process as a blog post. My high school years as a drama student saw me writing my fair share of reflective journals, something that I allows found helping in solidifying my learnings on a particular practical activity. However, a fair amount of time has past since then and my reflective skills have become a little rusty, so bear with me as I ponder my two and a bit month experience of create my very first blog.

I was quite excited by the opportunity to create my own blog as it was something that I had considered in the past, but as I mentioned in my first blog post, I had never put the wheels into motion for fear of my content being judge as boring and irrelevant. Having a set topic – online public relations – allowed me to get part these concerns and just write. As a prolific user of facebook, you wouldn’t think I’d be worried about having nothing to say. I regularly update my status, as well as comment of ‘friends’ photos and walls, but I think when the privacy barriers (however flimsy they are) of facebook-style social networking were removed, it made me more self conscious about what I what I was about to post.

I started this assignment by setting up an Edublog account, as had been instructed by my lecturer. However, I couldn’t curb my interest to add photos and embed youtube videos and after seeing a post on our unit’s online blackboard system that we could use any blogging platform we liked, I quickly moved my first post over to a wordpress blog. I chose to use WordPress over the likes of Bloggers for the simple fact that I was familiar with this platform from reading travel blogs of various friends and I knew I like the visual layout.

Although I am technologically savvy, it did take me about an hour to completely get my head around the majority of functions on offer through WordPress. I probably spent far too much time trawling through the available skin options to theme my blog, but considering this would be a public work I wanted to pick something that I vaguely liked. I also spent a bit of time messing around with widgets, but in the end decided to keep it simple and just add a few. There were also a lot of little small decisions to make that needed to be made, such as, whether or not a link should open in a new window. As a user I hate having multiple windows open on my desktop, but as a blogger I felt that it was a better option to set links to open in new windows, so that readers weren’t steered away from my blog.

I played around with my writing style and decided to use a more relaxed conversational style. Although I was writing about online public relations I still wanted it to have a personal feel and I felt that a friendlier and less serious style would reflect this. I chose to add a few anecdotes and analogies to try and make it not so dry. Whether this worked or not I am unsure, so I would be interested in hearing feedback on this.

For my first blog I typed it up in word first, but I soon realised that it was easier to type directly into the template management system of the blog as it offered most of the same functions as word such as spell check and saving capabilities. I liked that I could also go back and edit things after I had posted, however it did make me think about the fact that blogs can be retrospectively altered so easily. For someone whose blog had a reasonably large following and attracted a lot of comments how would their ability to make retrospective changes impact on a reader who was trying to decipher comments about a part of a post that had been altered or removed?

I would have like to have received comments on my blog so that I could have learnt more about this function and had the experience of interacting with people, but I felt too shy to post a link to it on facebook. As a result I haven’t received any views, which I guess can be the case for many blogs out there. I guess I see blogs to be a tool to facilitate interactivity, so for me my blog hasn’t seen completely alive as it has been missing this communication component.

Although I didn’t have to moderate any comments, I did consider the ethics of removing what could be considered offensive. On the one hand blogs are about citizen journalism. A medium to have the freedom to express ones thoughts and as such it would be unethical to remove posts that I didn’t like or that offended me. However I think that if a comment was inciting hate through racism for example, it would be unethical not to remove it. I guess this is a conundrum that active bloggers come across everyday and for company bloggers they are faced with an even harder question if someone makes negative comments about their company on their blog. If they were to remove the comment it would diminish the open and transparent communication channel that they are trying to build with publics, but if they leave the comment it is there for the world to see. I think the best strategy would be to respond to the comment in a constructive way that appeases the commentor, but also highlights why they are wrong or what you are doing to fix this problem.

A good example of how this strategy has been utilised, although it is about addressing comments on an external website/blog, is how many hotels have started to actively monitor comments about their company on and respond to them. This really takes the sting out of negative comments that could be off putting for a potential customer.

All in all I quite enjoyed the experience of setting up a blog. I think as someone who in interested public relations it is important to continuing developing online skills. Employers now expect employees to be multi-skilled in traditional and new pr technologies. At the beginning of this  assignment I wasn’t sure whether I would continue blogging, but I have the feeling that I won’t be able to stop myself, especially now I have found an interesting topic to post about.

If you build it, they will come

I have just been in Denver, Colorado for work and had the chance to catch a baseball game between the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks (for those of you interested my Rockies won by a not too shabby margin!). I must have had baseball on my mind when I started reading about creating website traffic, because that famous line from Field of Dreams kept running through my head – “If you build it, they will come” (it is actaully “he will come”, but I am somewhat of a feminist, so prefer keep language gender neutral!). It got me thinking, if only building website traffic was as easy as  ‘the voice’ in a Field of Dreams made building a baseball stadium sound!

Unfortunately it take more than just building a website to get people reading it. As Deirdre Quinn-Allan points out, “One of the most important tasks in developing a successful online public relations strategy is developing plan for getting the strategy noticed.” When it comes to getting your website noticed, one such strategy is to focus on search engine optimisation (SEO). Search engines facilitate traffic to your website though keywords entered by publics.  The idea behind SEO is to fine tune your website, so that when a public searches for something related to your company you are the most relevant page displayed through the search engine’s general listing, known as organic search. The concept sounds relatively simple, right? Tweak your page to receives higher listings in search engines like Google. However, as Brooke points out, in his paper “Is it worth getting in a bidding war?”, it can get a little complicated because, “… As the number of sites grows, so does the challenge of making sure this happens.”

It is this difficulty that has led to a plethora of search engine strategy companies springing up over the last decade. These companies offer their expertise in how best to optimise your website and they monitor the results for you, making additional tweaks along the way. SEO is a long-term investment, so hiring an external company for a significant period of time can become costly. To keep long-term costs down Brooke highlights Andrew Hood’s suggestion to, “Start with an agency and work on a knowledge-transfer basis to bring some of the expertise in-house.” For those of you who can’t afford to outsource to an external company, there are a few simple things that you can start doing on your own that will at least get you in the game. In keeping with my love of top ten lists here are Business Insiders’ “Ten Basic Tips to get you Started” with SEO.

It is good to remember thought that there can be time when having your businesses name ranking high in organic search results can be a negative rather than a positive. Take for example the blog of a disgruntled ex-employee or news articles about an embarrassing legal matter. You don’t want these searches to be the first thing that publics find when searching for your company or its related product/service. SEO is again a good strategy to combat such an issue, as it can allow your site to bump the problematic references to your company down the search rankings.

Video News Releases

Video news releases (VNRs) have grown in popularity within the US since their introduction in the late 1980s. They are costly to produce, but they are often seen as an effective public relationship tool for private and not-for-profit organisations, as outlined by Harmon and White. With the increase in the number of television channels/news programs available (there are an estimated 800 television newsrooms in the US) and the budget pressures being faced by news programs it is no wonder that the US has seen an increase in the production and use of VNRs. However, as Harmon and White point out, “Only the most well-produced and newsworthy will make the air, and even those chosen will most likely be edited and changed from what was sent.”

VNRs have come under considerable criticism with a number of academic scholars labeling them audience deceptions and questioning the ethics of newsrooms using them. They argue that the way a news story is presented gives no indication as to whether it has been constructed through the use of a VNRs. Viewers are watching under the assumption that the story has been gathered by the news station and that independent judgement has been applied to the story. Hormon and White argue that the viewer has no idea that what they are watching could have been almost entirely the construct of a company with underlying ulterior motives. It could be so much a product of a company that even the voice-over story has been written for the news presenter.

I don’t think Hormon and White are giving viewers enough credit. No longer are the days when viewers solely rely on the media to provide them with information needs. They have become more active in the search for news and information, and more skeptical of what they are told by the mainstream media. They are questioning of what they are shown and don’t necessarily expect what they are presented with to be a balance opinion. In saying that, I think VNRs are information subsidies that are part of a larger grouping of influences negatively impacting on the journalistic profession and allowing the fielded to be underfunded in the area of proper research and journalistic integrity.

The following cartoon by Tom Toles highlighting state-controlled media can just as easily be applied to what is becoming company-controlled  media.

Australia has been slower to take up the use of VNRs. The significant costs of developing VNRs has been a detering factor for companies avoiding production, coupled with the relatively small number of television channels/news program in comparison to our US counterparts.. However, the introduction of digital television in Australia has seen the emergence of our first free-to-air 24-hour news channel. It won’t be long before the other stations join the ABC in the non-stop deliver of news and with this I am sure we can expect to see an increase in the development and use of VNRs.

Why Blog when we already have a Website?

Websites are a wonderful way to communicate to information about your company to the world via the Internet, but most website provide little more than what Grunig has termed public information. Websites are a communication tool that focuses on one way communication. They impart knowledge on a user without really giving them the ability to interact. They may provide an opportunity to email the company with questions or issues, as well as purchase products through an online store, but generally website are pretty static when it comes to interactivity and do not provide a forum for open and transparent interaction between the company and its publics. Let alone publics with other publics.

I am not criticising the use of website. In fact I believe they are an extremely useful communication tool for companies. I would even go as far as to say that they are essential for anyone who is serious about running their business. However, the public relations industry needs to recognise their limitations and work on building interactive components that allow two-way symmetrical communication.

Enter blogs stage right!

By companies adding a blogging component to their website or running a stand alone-blog, they instantly provide a forum for engaging publics in a conversation. In Xifa and Huertas’s paper “Blogging PR: An exploratory analysis of public relations weblogs” they highlight Hiebert’s assertion by say, “Blogs foster democracy because they restore dialogue and participative communication in the public sphere and preserve the role of public relations by means of two-way communication.”

For those wanting a quick and dirty overview of how you should delve into the world of business blogging have a look at this short video with Mike Agerbo and social media expert Darren Barefoot. Darren suggest that blogging platforms such as wordpress or bloggers are a good way to get started,  although he recommends that the more advanced blogger should consider incorporating their blog into their existing web presence. If you’re wondering how often your should be blogging for your business Darren suggests twice a week as a good place to start. He cautions those who don’t think they can maintain posting more than once a week to reconsider utilising the blogging sphere unless they can find a way to committee more time.

There are different types of blogs as Kent outlines in his paper, “Critical analysis of blogging in public relations“. It is useful for pr practitioners to be aware of the different forms blogs can take and how these impacts on publics attitudes and perceptions. For example, dry blogs that are too formal in their language and blatantly mouth-pieces for a company will often be met with skepticism and hostility. Blogs that are sloppily written with few interactive elements such as links or embedded videos will be dismissed as unreliable and boring. Pr practitioners need to carefully think about how they want to structure their companies blog to leverage the best outcome. Something that can work quite well is providing industry related updates, advice and debates on topical issues. This can be through a blog that utilises one or multiple employees, be they pr professionals or senior managers, and/or can also utilise guest bloggers with an area of specilisation. This type of blogging tends to drive more traffic than blogs that are merely used as an obvious and tacky push for a company. Publics perceive companies who blog in this way as informative and trustworthy, and it builds a good relationship that will ultimately lead to the same end as those blatant company blogs are aiming for, but probably won’t reach.

A good example of a company that utilises a guest blogger with a specialisation in a topical area is McAffee. As a company whose products centre around computer security services they have realised that a large market is mums worried about the online safety of their kids. They have co-opted the expertise of IT professional and mum of two Moira Cronin to write a blog as McAffee’s Cybermum. This blog allows publics to ask Moira for advice on the issue of online safety for their children. No doubt some of her strategies include McAffee’s products, but Moira’s advice allows these products to be recommended for an expert point of view that can be trusted by publics.

Top Ten Reasons for PR Practitioners to Blog

Hi my name’s Jess and I’m a top-ten-aholic!

I’m not sure why I love a good top ten list, but I think I have David Letterman to blame for it! As a teenager I worked at an outdoor cinema during the summer and to wind down when I got home I would watch mind numbing TV as I fell asleep. This always seemed to coincided with Letterman and it was love at first sight with his top ten segment. I mean what’s not to love? Even Barack Obama digs a top ten list!

Lame, but makes me laugh everytime!

…but back to the topic at hand! During my research of the benefits of blogging for pr professionals, I came across David Erickson’s blog post ‘The Importance of Blogging – 10 Reasons PR People Should Blog‘ and thought would share them with you.

Blogging for PR Professionals

Since their emergence in the mid-nineties the number of blogs on the internet have continued to grow at a rapid pace. From their humble beginning as personal diaries, blogs have found their way into the education, business, political, journalism and public relations sphere, as highlighted by Xifra and Huertas in “Blogging PR: An exploratory analysis of public relations weblogs“.  A number of public relations professionals have realised the benefits of blogging and have jumping on this user-generated bandwagon. However there has been more hesitation from the pr profession to embrace blogging then one might think. I mean why wouldn’t pr professionals flock in droves to use a two-way communication tool that, as Deirdre Quinn-Allan points, “… enables public relations people to develop a more authentic form of communication with relevant target public.” As long they are not blatantly impersonal corporate blogs, publics see them as a much more genuine form of interact rather than sleazy manipulated spin that they have become so weary of.

Even with recognised benefits there’s a large percentage of public relations professional not taking up the opportunity to blog in a personal or professional capacity. Kent alludes to the fact that both pr “practitioners and academics are struggling to understand the value and consequences of blogs” in his paper “Critical analysis of blogging in public relations“.

Philippe Borremans’ post on his blog “Conversationblog: Talks Cheap, Free Speech Isn’t” makes reference to the second European survey of pr professionals conducted at the end of 2006. This survey found that although 89% of pr professionals surveyed thought that blogs and social media will be as integral a part of communication planning as websites currently are, 69% said that they don’t have staff with the skills to handle blogging. 42% reported that they also couldn’t easily quantify the return on investment (ROI) of blogging.

Not being able to quantify ROI is a worrying thing for pr professionals, especially these days when executives expect to see statistical data to back up success claims. However factually demonstrating ROI should not be a concern for pr professionals, as there have been frameworks developed for their use. In 2007 the Forrester Research group released two papers regarding the ROI of blogging. The second of which included a framework to demonstrate the ROI of blogs. The following diagram demonstrates how this framework can be applied.

More information about these two papers can be found on Josh Bernoff’s blog post ‘New ROI of blogging report from Forrester’.