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 tripadvisor.com 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.

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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.