Last updated: October 11, 2006 4:27 pm

Ask the expert: PR and blogs

Q&A: Richard Edelman

Companies and organisations are increasingly keen to benefit from the buzz on blogs and other forms of user-generated content.

However many are still fearful of the way negative sentiment can gain traction through the blogosphere – such as the infamous criticism of Dell in 2005. At the same time, the poorly-conceived PR efforts in the blogosphere risk a grassroots backlash in an environment where authenticity is paramount.

Does the public relations industry understand blogs? Are the two even compatible?

Richard Edelman is president and chief executive of Edelman, the world’s biggest independent public relations company. He maintains a popular blog, 6am.

Together with Technorati, the blog search engine, Edelman has published new research into blog readers and writers in the US and Western Europe.

Richard Edelman will answer questions from 3pm BST on Wednesday, October 11.

There is not doubt that customer has been empowered with the use of Internet and this has consequently affected the customer-firm relationship. Can blogs help firms to achieved a more trusted and loyal relationship from customers? How?
Daniela Platt

Richard Edelman: I think that the direct conversation is exactly what companies need to earn trust of customers. Admit an error. Fix a problem. Commit to doing better. That is only human.

Are you able to train all Edelman employees in blog relations? Can you share the percentage of clients that have adopted a program?
Adam Zand, Topaz Partners, Woburn

Richard Edelman: We are in the process of training our people, The fastest in accepting this new world are those in tech and consumer sectors. We have created a new unit called Me2Revolution who are tasked with being our missionaries to our people and our clients. I would venture a guess and say that 10% of our clients are doing something in the blogosphere but especially in IT and consumer. Unilever has been particularly open to it.

How can organisations make money out of advanced Web 2.0 techniques and technologies?
John Casey

Richard Edelman: First, take money out of high cost advertising and utilize more cost effective communications techniques such as PR. Second, learn from your customer. This is a free focus group.

Third, enhance customer retention—the best customer is your current customer.

What do you make of the 89/1/10 rule that seems to be gaining some currency. 89 per cent of people mearely consume blogs, one per cent write their own and ten per cent post comments on others? Does this chime with your own experience - and will it hold true for corporate blogging?
Ben Maynard, London

Richard Edelman: Here is what we are seeing. About 25-30 percent of people read blogs regularly. There are 56 million bloggers globally, about 40% are in English language, then 31% in Japanese and 12% in Chinese. The number of blogs has doubled in the last year. I don’t know about who posts.

Has Public Relations Become Synonymous with Spam? For the details, see this.
Amanda Chapel, Chicago

Richard Edelman: This is absolutely not the case. PR is premised on truth, trust and transparency.

Good Morning Richard. Hope all is well.PR expertise comes from experience and practice, and its not something that you can just read and learn. I have been in the e-commerce industry for over 3 years developing marketing strategies and tactics for various websites. And I always find that PR is the most complicated tactic to use because there are no guide lines for it.In your opinion, what is the best PR tactics to deploy for new e-commerce companies? Thanks.
Basil Hatto, Los Angeles

Richard Edelman: Be smart about selecting your micro niches for communicating in the blogosphere. Acknowledge what you do well and what you need to improve. Learn from the comments and show that you have changed.

In the online world business' reputation is one of the most precious element. How can blogs help firms to increase loyalty from customers? Is it becasue they promote transparency and authenticity by risking their reputation? Unless as being said before all entries are filtered which ultimately tell us that there is not such transparency and authenticity.Daniela Platt, Blackheath

Richard Edelman:  DP I would recommend to a company that all entries be filtered to remove spam and foul language. I do also suggest that companies have experts available who can speak in an authoritative and unvarnished manner to guarantee credibility.

Climate change has become big issue for companies in Europe. Is it legitimate for them to participate in the blog world to pursue their arguments, for or against actions proposed by Governments and others?
Simon Bryceson, Slovenia

Richard Edelman:  Hi Simon, glad to know you are alive! I am absolutely in favor of companies pursing an environmental agenda to ask advice and assistance from the blogosphere. This is also an area in which I would advise companies to have a central source of credible information on what they are doing and what their commitment might be in the coming years. 

Mr. Edelman, are corporate blogs going to replace the good old press release? And, will the SEC ever allow listed companies to publish disclosure announcement on their blogs (referring to Jonathan Schwartz's approach last week)? What do you think?
Many thanks, KP Frahm

Richard Edelman:  Jon is to be commended for chutzpah. In a Sarbanes Oxley world, I doubt seriously the SEC allowing this. But more to the point, I believe the traditional press release will be made obsolete over time. We need to put up a new format which has quotes from top executives, links to credible sources of information, links to video or photos, statistics on studies. Let the journalists or general public take it from there.

Richard - should a corporate blogging strategy be devised and implemented by a dedicated 'social media specialist' or should it come within the remit of generalist PR and communications teams and agencies? How should it be integrated with 'traditional' PR (if such a thing exists)?
Ben Maynard, UK

Richard Edelman: Corporate blogging strategy requires some specialist insight in order to understand tone, the definition of micro niche leaders and subjects to cover. But most important is to take on board the advice of specialist PR people who know their industry such as health or auto. Do modify your tone to be open instead of guarded.

Richard, in your experience what is the trigger for organisations to integrate blogging with PR efforts? Is is always a negative/painful experience, or have people identified new value to be gained in this space?
Ben Maynard, UK

Richard Edelman: Often it is a negative experience that triggers blogging. Two examples are GM and Dell. GM’s Fast Lane blog does a terrific job of engaging with car enthusiasts. Dell seeks to overcome its reputation as having poor service by listening, acknowledging and improving.

Dear Mr Edelman,
With reference to an article in the FT on Monday titled 'Web use overtakes newspapers', in your opinion are blogs playing a key role in this shift?

Thanks, Anna

Richard Edelman:  Richard Sambrook of the BBC says it best when he contends that the crowd is coming onto the field and wants to play in the game. The blogging phenomenon allows readers to feel as if they are co-creating their media experience. This should help mainstream media as long as they are open to this new trend.

Richard,
Blogging as a PR resource has been on the agenda for some time - my first question, how do I justify the benefits of running a blog to my corporate client? Rather an open-ended question I know, but a few points would be invaluable. Look forward to your comments.

Jo Skinner, Flagship Consulting 

Richard Edelman: Learn from the crowd. Get out there and humanize yourself. Tell your employees what you are about and where the company is going. Let go of the control and gain credibility

Assuming the two are compatible, should the education on blogger relations and other new media skills take place on the employer side, or in the universities? What are your thoughts on teaching new media PR skills? Thank you.
Eric Hansen, Syracuse, New York

Richard Edelman: Hey EH, my favorite correspondent. Get out of college already and get to work! The education should begin at school. The PR courses at the universities like Syracure, Ball State and others must incorporate these new skills. Then you will get more on the job…if you hurry up and graduate.

Dear Richard - in your view how can organisations demonstrate the value of blogging as part of their corporate comms. In my experience many people are excited at the potential, but can't put together a business case that goes beyond the 'people may be talking about us out there and we can't control it'?
Ben Maynard

Richard Edelman:  I can point to the example of Wal-Mart which has created a central source of credible information, Walmartfacts.com, which has helped to change the conversation about the company. If you Google Wal-Mart and environment today, you will see that eight of the ten top are positive, a complete contrast to what would have occurred a year ago.

What have you learned about the way journalists consume information in the blogosphere? - Rough estimates on how many are using them to find sources and generate ideas - Frequency (use it as a regular resource or for casual browsing) - Attitudes (likelihood to use as source, credibility of blog owner) - Behaviors (will journalists reach out to blog owners)What are the differences between PR that goes TO the blogosphere as a media channel and the use of blogs FOR PR, such as corporate blogs?
Christopher Fox, New York, NY

Richard Edelman: We have just completed a study in the US UK and France. We see that in the past quarter of 2006 ended September that the mainstream media (NY Times, Washington Post, FT) had over 200 attributions to blogs. This is increasing steadily since 2004.

What would be your advice to a retail or say a financial services company considering tagging to their website a customer feedback (and complaint)dialogue sheet. If everyone could read online the comments of the disgruntled customer of x retailer, explaining for example why they were so unhappy with a new kind of button on a shirt, would the company simply be likely to lose its shirt (in a spiral of network-effect bad p.r.)? Or would it be living up to a sometimes-quoted wisdom about customer-facing businesses - that negative feedback is more valuable than positive?
Christian Preston, London

Richard Edelman: This seems to be a scary proposition for a corporation. But consider how beneficial it might be! Assume you respond to each of the complaints, suggesting a specific solution for the customer and how you are modifying the company process to prevent further such incidents. This could also become a source for mainstream media, showing the company is listening.

Companies are encouraged to engage in the blogosphere and become part of conversations that discuss their business, brands, etc. Is it absolutely necessary for a company to create a blog on its business/particular brand or is it possible to merely follow what is being said in blogs and interact and respond on a spontaneous basis or when necessary? Is such behaviour negatively perceived by those in the blogosphere? Secondly, what is the best way to encourage and empower employees to become regular bloggers? Also, what sort of training is required to ensure that what employees impart is beneficial to the company and not the source of a potential crisis?
C.A. Allen, Johannesburg, South Africa

Richard Edelman: You have a choice. Should you simply want to play defense, you can listen by reading blogs and responding. That is fine as far as it goes. But as a football fan (I am guessing!) you know you score goals only when on offense. So take the chance to enable your R&D director or others to blog. Further recognize that your employees are blogging anyway, perhaps in sites like the Vault which record unfavorable comments about companies. Give them full information and they will facilitate the peer to peer conversation and help the company.

If a company started blogging in October 2006, what would be the number one benefit it noticed by October 2009?
James Cherkoff, London

Richard Edelman: The key benefit must be with employees, who will be empowered to speak peer to peer on behalf of the company. Note that Microsoft has also encouraged its employees to blog—over 5000 are doing so at present, with tremendous benefit to the company.

A two-pronged question: What was the biggest general misconception from three years ago on what the effect of blogs would be on corporate communications in 2006, and how can bearing that in mind help everyone navigate the expected changes in the blogosphere in the next three years? - sorry I’m not on this live as it is the middle of the night in Australia!
Tristan Everett, Melbourne

Richard Edelman: The biggest fear was lack of control of message by corporations leading to misunderstanding in the market place. Actually the blogosphere is quite self correcting; bloggers do not want to be party to spreading false information. Create a central source of credible data for the company; keep it updated and keep it transparent and real.

As PR professionals, we can make our client understand about PR2.0 and the importance of blogging. But once the blog is up and running, what can be our role and what value additions can be give to our clients with respect to their blogs and blogging habits?
Hobbit hob, India

Richard Edelman: We should be looking at blog research tools such as Technorati which follow the blogosphere. We should suggest new topics for posts. We can also recommend new bloggers such as director of R&D or others as credible speakers for the company.

I believe blogs and other kinds of customer- generated or so-called social net working will be a fast growing and effective marketing communication tool in the near future. It is interactive, responsive and most importantly, humanized. It means a brand can talk to its customers like friends!However, i have not seen many successful conversations. The failure of Chevrolet’s Tahoe ads campaign is one example. Before we have more insight into this new media about its charactors, how it works and its users, just don’t rush into the blog carnival.Then my question is, How to leverage social networking to achieve public communication goals?
Siyun East Lansing, MI

Richard Edelman: Blogging and social media are not guaranteed positives for the company. But that is exactly why the horizontal, peer to peer conversation is so credible. You give up control to gain belief. There are several examples of successful campaigns; in fact look at consumer generated content such as eepybird.com where two crazy guys show what happens when you drop Mentos into Diet Coke—an explosive reaction that was so funny it generated over 10 million visitors to the site and an uptick in sales for Mentos.

What percentage of labor time you expect senior management and shareholders of companies will spend attending blogs? Will they benefit accordingly?
Juan Capelli, Buenos Aires

Richard Edelman: I spend about an hour to an hour and a half a week researching and writing my blog. I hope that managers write their own material — in their own voice. It is so obvious when you are faking it by using professional writers.

In your opinion, what are the most effective ways that blogs can be applied to the practice of public relations and media relations to benefit the public, clients and the media?Also, how do PR firms profit by embracing blogs?
Michael Lizun Ardmore, PA

Richard Edelman: PR firms benefit from this development by being the lead in the horizontal, peer to peer conversation. Blogs are inherently more oriented to our profession because we rely on facts, are accustomed to immediacy and use of third party experts as sources. Use blogging as a means of enhancing traditional media relations.

How should the PR industry adapt to offshoring, given that there are so many bright practitioners that could do much of the work in Phillipines, India or China rather than expensive talent closer to home?
Ged, London

Richard Edelman: We have been considering this option. So far, it seems that we do our best work close to our clients and living in the local culture so that we can be aware of trends. This is not the same as IT consulting.

I think that blogging is, and should be, an important tool for anyone who wants to suggest a certain point of view (commercially or otherwise). But what is your opinion on the PR value of the ‘blogospheres’ closest neighbour, the online debate?It seems to me there are many sites offering such open debate, incl. ft.com, the upcoming .com, and so on. In several ways, ‘blogging’, and posting points of view in an online forum, have obvious similarities but they also have a different dynamic at play. So, which one (in your view) offers the greatest potential for creating a credible ‘buzz’?
Mary Davies, London

Richard Edelman: I believe that on line forums are a wonderful mechanism for allowing a hosted expert conversation. In a subject area such as health care, you can afford to have a key physician offering expert advice. The function of a blog is quite different—an entirely personal journal which must be written frequently as opposed to the episodic nature of chat rooms. Fundamental to this entire world is that contributions by the corporate community must be entirely transparent—no lurking, no misinformation.

How would you advise corporations to handle their entrance to the blogosphere? Who do you see in the organisation as responsible for that - PR? Marketing? CEO?
Asi, London

Richard Edelman: You should listen to the leaders of the micro-niche, the most frequently linked to blogs in the category. Reach out to them and ask their advice. Then write a post, link to these key bloggers if possible, then review Technorati to see how others in the blogosphere are responding to your post. Learn for the next post what did and did not work.

There appears to be a similarity in the growth of blogs and social networking (from SoFlow to LinkedIn to MySpace). While this may not be surprising due to the human need to belong or be in community with other human beings, could it have the opposite effect due to the technological interface required? Many of us don’t know our own neighbours but we will happily purchase goods from a complete stranger on eBay. Is there a danger that the power of the personal recommendation by a friend could be replaced by the impersonal rating of a user on a blog service?
James Cole Ashford, Kent, UK

Richard Edelman: I don’t believe so. I think that this is not an either/or proposition. The reality of today is that each person has his own network of trust. Then there are those with whom you share interests who may not be friends.

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