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.