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Internet Changes the Face of PR

Print
Category: Andy Marken's blog Published on Saturday, 28 February 2009

Will Public Relations Be a Profession by 2010?

By G.A. “Andy” Marken

President

Marken Communications Inc.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

Recently we were told in no uncertain terms by a client’s prospective customer that she had seriously considered our product but after reading customer reviews on one of the many public consumer review sites.

 

She addressed her issues to us directly because ours was the only personal contact on the web site. The others were sales@, customer support@, etc.

 

She wasn’t the first prospective customer or actual user to contact us.

 

She won’t be the last.

 

The Internet and Web technologies have changed the way public relations professionals interact with others and in fact have changed the definition of publics.

 

 

Today your publics are online. Having a visitor friendly web site is simply part of the cost of doing business. PR should be part of the team that has inputs to and develops/maintains the site but only part of the enterprise-wide team.

 

However, most site visitors view the company web site as the starting point of their search…not the end.

 

There is literally a world of opportunities to find out about you, your products and yes your customer support.

 

Being Involved

Public relations people have to be more than just aware of the information options, they have to be involved with them…all of them.

 

Teens, tweens and millennials can hardly recall the pre-digital days. Gen Xers and boomers have found the benefits of being online. They don’t simply use the Internet as a means of doing business or staying in touch.

 

 

They IP (Internet protocol) address is their doorway to the world of news, information and entertainment.

 

It means that PR pros have to open up to think beyond the 1:many activities to efforts that help the company interact with prospects and customers.

 

Unfortunately too many publicists view their next great opportunity to be the blog – the writing, weaving of a story or tale to sell their unique ability to reach, educate, inform and persuade the marketplace bypassing journalists.

 

The challenge for these individuals is that there many bloggers out there discussing the company’s products – pro and con – and people know how to find these information/product discussions.

 

 

The successful blogs – many by company CEOs, engineers, product managers – are written to connect, help and gain information and insight into customer usage and future needs. Sales pitches are dead. Blogs that contain informative and knowledgeable content and address real questions/issues are read and passed along to others as credible. They also deliver new customers as well as new product/application ideas.

 

New Opportunities

Your professional career opportunities aren’t as bleak as we’ve discussed above. In fact the Internet and web have opened new vistas. Suddenly the walls have melted down for talented and experienced communicators so they can learn more about, understand and better serve their firm’s prospects and customers.

 

What can you do?

  • offer them real knowledge, not just PR hype – loading them up with HTML files, disguised press releases, PDFs, sales power points seldom persuades anyone. However webinars by staff members discussing how to use and get the most out of your products or services makes it easier for the audience to see how they can take advantage of the product or service in their business or personal life. Webinars that feature an honest user or industry expert add credibility to you, enhances the individual's image and helps them promote their business.

 

  • Leverage the reach of video – Sites like YouTube offer multiple opportunities for organizations to share news, information and ideas with customers and prospects. We work with more than a dozen individuals who regularly post video new product coverage and reviews. Some of the videos are admittedly not polished movie productions. Some are Internet TV activities where the “host” discusses new products, conducts live testing and even field live questions. Another YouTube approach is to set up your own educational “station.” Firms are often hesitant because they have visions of setting up a major production facility complete with cameras, lights, crews and a ton of equipment. However, a number of firms have undertaken this using a relatively inexpensive HD camcorder, green screen, consumer video post production software such as Pinnacle Studio 12 and an off-the-shelf notebook or desktop computer. It is less costly than you might image and the more frequently new “films” are produced/added, the more traffic the site receives.

 

  • Before we leave the subject of video, consider making optimum use of this very effective communications tool in other areas on your web site. Every public relations person enjoys going on the road to do an editorial tour to sit in front of editors, reviewers, industry analysts and other influentials. The challenge is always ROI (return on investment). We have seen a modest move by some organizations to develop a series of videos and make them available on their web site. The thought that comes to mind for PR people is the new product presentation which can be easily and effectively produced using a combination of video and stills (photos or screen shots). Because our publics now include bloggers, social networks, local/regional user groups, specialized use lists and individuals; expand your video information delivery to include: how to videos; niche/unique application content; commonly asked questions, answers/solutions on the company, product, application areas. The key is to help the company become a valued and reliable source for information and assistance for prospects and customers. It’s all about building relationships.

 

  • Understand how search engines (i.e. Google and others) and RSS (Really Simple Syndication) work to increase the visibility of new information, news and content. We’re often surprised how many web sites use Adobe Flash to present the company and/or product. Looks sexy but there still remains – largely unresolved – concern over search engines’ ability to read Flash video files. If you modify the video content search engines may or may not be able to read and index the files. There are also questions on how the search engines rank the files and obviously the higher your content is in ranking the more people will access your content.

 

Front Line

Before we leave Web activities we are always surprised at how difficult it is to locate a specific public relations contact on a company’s web site. Not just a name but an email address and phone number.

 

The most common answer we hear is that we don’t want customers contacting us for information and/or answers.

 

Huh?

 

Customers are the reason we are in business!

 

We certainly don’t like prospects and/or customers contacting us because often: a) they are irritated because the product doesn’t work the way they thought it should and b) we don’t have the definitive answer.

 

Calm that individual down, help him or her get the right assistance/answer and the company has not just saved a sale but more frequently has gained another company/product advocate who will speak favorably about the firm and experience with others.

 

Favorable word of mouth is inexpensive, invaluable and vital in today’s global marketplace!

 

Tracking Customer Experience

Regardless of the product, service or solution market; a pivotal part of PR activity today is understanding the many facets involved in building marketplace trust and transparency with your publics. That also includes monitoring the health of the customer relationship.

 

Consumers may hear about your product/service through your publicity efforts.

 

They visit your Web site to study its features, capabilities, applications, availability and cost.

 

Increasingly they do additional due diligence to ensure the company stands fully supports the customer after the purchase.

 

 

And on the Internet there is a world of information available on how well your company meets its commitments to customers.

 

Last year ABI Research conducted a worldwide study on the customer decision process and found business and individual consumers spent two-three hours researching the web comparing products and the firm’s service and support.

 

And the information is readily available from online rating services, industry/application specific discussion forums, blogs, advocacy sites, social network sites and RSS feeds.

 

The research showed that the individuals clearly took the product specific, professional and informal evaluations and discussions into consideration. More than half of those interviewed noted that the Web based information influenced their purchasing decisions.

 

 

Nearly 75 percent of those surveyed stated that they chose companies and brands based on others’ customer care experience.

 

Customer Focus

Today public relations people give a lot of lip service to their ability to reach, educate and inform the marketplace in new and more exciting ways.

 

Web 2.0 puts a lot of tools in the hands of companies and communications people who are willing to use them to reach out and listen to the organization’s many publics.

 

The mass market has vanished from the landscape.

 

 

Today’s markets are markets of 1.

 

Wrapping a one-way PR message won’t work.

 

The step is listening!

 

And the prospective customer we mentioned at the beginning.

 

We listened to her issues, her concerns.

 

We pointed her to educational, informational content and videos on the web site. We directed her to user forums and encouraged her to lurk and ask questions to other real customers.

 

She bought.

 

More importantly she has posted her positive experience on the user generated sites.

 

She has participated in product specific blogs.

 

She has posted her own video how-tos and successes on video websites.

 

She is the best example of what public relations will be in 2010.

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