Bons mots

Slips of my tongue

PR 2.0 Best Practices

Web 2.0 is like the Wild West – unchecked and untamed, with no laws governing its populace. We are still trying to establish rules and ethics surrounding this new frontier that everyone can agree on. Until then, the best we can do is shape our own body of ethics to govern our behaviour. There are pioneers in the field that we can certainly learn from but it’s still anybody’s guess as to what exactly constitutes best practices for Web 2.0.

And yet we still question why many organizations are hesitant to adapt Web 2.0 tools into their communications strategies. How can they play the game when no one can agree on the rules? Convincing these organizations of the benefits of Web 2.0 is the challenge today’s public relations students face. How do we equip them with the knowledge and confidence to take on this onerous task?

I have only ventured into the social media sphere last fall; yet somehow this makes me one of the more seasoned pros in my Online PR class. The glut of information and tools available can be very intimidating and overwhelming, and I’ve seen quite a few confused faces in the past few weeks.

If you are more savvy and comfortable with new technology, you can navigate the waters with relative ease and find practical PR applications for any Web 2.0 tool. For those treading into unknown waters, consider the following as a primer to Web 2.0 best practices as they relate to PR. Feel free to co-opt them or add your own.

Listen

The best place to start is by listening to the online conversations taking place. Set up Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds and Google Alerts to stay on top of issues affecting your industry and organization. These tools allow a PR professional to easily find and compile relevant information that will give his or her organization a chance to stay on top of any rumours or bad press.

Open the door

The idea of having a conversation with their stakeholders is anathema to senior management used to having a comfortable distance between their customers or the media. There is a fear of putting themselves “out there” – will their audience take it as an open invitation to tell them what they really think in a public forum?

Consider the advantages of offering space on your website for comments and feedback. Responding to complaints or criticism in a timely manner goes a long way in diffusing any damage that, left unchecked, could cripple a company’s reputation.

For any doubters out there, I have two words for you: Dell Hell.

Get out there

In space, no one can hear you scream. In Web 2.0, however, everyone is listening. They are even talking about your organization – isn’t it time you joined in the discussion? A good corporate blog establishes an online presence for your organization and allows it to converse with its audience. But you don’t have to wait to be invited…

Reach out

Actively participate in ongoing discussions with influential bloggers. You will gain more credibility by commenting as well as listening. But like traditional media relations, it is important to build a rapport with a blogger; read their posts and know what interests them. Become knowledgeable and informative and add to the discussion.

Be social

Social networks like Facebook and MySpace provide organizations with built in audiences for its products and services. Setting up a Facebook group lets your audiences (customers, employees) become members, providing tacit approval for your organization. Successful word-of-mouth marketing is built on a level of trust and credibility; people will be more willing to investigate your product or service if their friends recommend it.

Honesty will get you everywhere

You can fool some of the people some of the time…but not bloggers. The world of social media is littered with the corpses of fake blogs (or flogs): Wal-Mart, Sony, just to name a few. No matter how savvy your PR agency thinks it is, a flog is a never a good idea; the online community can spot a fraud a mile away. I see bloggers as the unofficial gatekeepers of Web 2.0. It’s the last public space that is relatively free of blatant, in-your-face advertising, and they want to keep it that way.

Aggregate

Like the bookmarks on your web browser, del.icio.us is a social bookmarking site where you can aggregate all your favorite articles, blogs and websites. For an organization, creating a del.icio.us account is a good way of tracking and aggregating your media mentions. You can also determine how popular your stories are by how many times they were saved. And knowing who tags and saves your stories helps you determine whether your messages are reaching the right audience.

Micro-blog

Tools like Twitter can be valuable as both a professional and PR tool. As a PR professional, start following influential people in the social media sphere; you will learn about new Web 2.0 tools and be ahead of your peers and competitors. For PR purposes, use Twitter to announce news about your organization (e.g. upgrades, new products) that your audiences will find helpful.

Reputation is everything

Becoming a Web 2.0 professional doesn’t get you far if your online reputation is dirt. Your brand not only represents you but also effects the reputation of the organization you work for. Social media does not necessitate a new set of rules for behaviour – common sense still applies. (Here’s a good article on how to avoid career embarrassment.)

My simple caveat is this: don’t do anything on the web you wouldn’t do at a social event.

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July 8, 2008 - Posted by | Learning | ,

1 Comment »

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