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Web 2.0 Basics for PR

updated 8/4/09

By David M. Freedman


DEFINITION:
WEB 2.0 is more collaborative, user-generated, and social than the previous version of the World Wide Web.

In the early days, content flowed mainly one way: from websites to users. Web 2.0 enables non-tech users to create content and form communities of content creators. Users don't just consume on the Web, they participate—thanks to simple tools
that let them comment, review, rate, rank, tag, publish, and share content, all without web programming skills or HTML knowledge.

Content now flows every which way and back again—it’s a conversation.

WEB 2.0 ENGAGEMENT. According to comScore, a majority of U.S. American adults who were online in 2007 participated in the Web 2.0 conversation by:

Participating in social networking websites like MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Biznik, hi5, and Plaxo. FriendFeed and Skimmer aggregate social net activities into a "lifestream." You can easily create your own social network with Ning. Or you can add social networking features to your website using the Google Friend Connect gadget.

Blogging (setting up a blog is easy using free services such as Blogger and WordPress.com; or cheap services with premium features, like TypePad)

Micro-blogging (even easier with Twitter and Tumblr). See Twitter sidebar in right margin. You can build your own niche micro-blog community with Twingr.

Commenting on other people's blogs, which can generate extended dialog, relationships, and even communities. (Caution: Your comments may be preserved in a database and "syndicated" by services like Disqus.)

Contributing information to Wikipedia; reviewing books on Amazon.com

Using wikis and forums to collaborate with colleagues, clients, or any membership group, thanks to free wiki-building tools like Wikispaces, WetPaint, PBWorks, and Google Groups.

Rating, forwarding, sharing, social bookmarking, and tagging digital content with tools such as Digg, Delicious (formerly del.icio.us), and BookmarkG.

Publishing original, rich (multi-media) content such as articles, white papers, photos, and videos, on their own websites or blogs; on "citizen journalism" sites such as Newsvine, EyeMobile, and iReport (CNN); or on community media sites such as Flickr, Photobucket, and YouTube.

Building their own dynamic websites—with integrated blogging and social networking features—using free, open-source content management systems (CMS) like WordPress.org and Drupal; or free hosted CMS such as Microsoft Office Live. Also, many popular domain registrars (including Network Solutions, BlueHost, and GoDaddy) provide affordable hosting and site-building tools for beginners.

Perspective: we still live offline
Web 2.0 evangelists and buzz-meisters might lead you to believe that traditional media are doomed and you should focus your PR strategy on social media. That may be true someday in some industries, but not yet. Before you invest in a social media campaign, integrate it into your strategic marketing plan.

Engage
You can begin participating in the Web 2.0 conversation by publishing informative content on your website or blog. Don't neglect to use plug-in tools like "share this" so that visitors can "hyper-syndicate" your content for you—that is, spread it virally around to various web-based publishing platforms.

But you don’t need your own website or a blog to participate and have your ideas hyper-syndicated. You can post thoughtful comments on other people’s blogs, forums, online communities, and professional networking sites like LinkedIn. In some cases your comments will be commented on, shared, referred to, discussed, rated, ranked, and virally disseminated. Search engines rank comments as well as other digital content, and news media sometimes use commenters as sources. Providing your e-mail address with your comments offers opportunities for audience members to contact you. Providing your website URL (which some blogs allow) invites people to visit your website and may improve your site’s search-engine ranking.

You don’t have to plunge in head-first to join the Web 2.0 conversation. Start by listening to the conversation, and discover what your clients and customers are talking passionately about. Read a few industry- or profession-related blogs each week (search for blogs on Technorati or Icerocket), and look for opportunities to contribute comments. Join a professional networking site like LinkedIn or Plaxo, and participate (don’t just wait for something to happen). Don’t be surprised if you have fun with it and find it necessary to impose limits on the time you spend networking online. Post a widget like one of these on the bio page of your website:

View my profile on LinkedIn                View David M. Freedman's profile on LinkedIn

Diplomacy
Monitor what is being said about you and your firm on blogs, and the Wikipedia especially. Use monitoring tools like Google Alerts and Factiva. If you find inaccurate information or defamatory claims, be careful how you respond. Work quickly and diplomatically to correct factual errors, but approach the process as a collaboration, in which you are a participant rather than an enforcer. If you threaten, or try to take control of the conversation, you will be overwhelmed by indignant, irreverent, intentionally disruptive hordes, and your efforts will backfire. Remember, opinions are usually protected by the First Amendment.

Your contributions to the Web 2.0 conversation should be authentic. Don't pretend to be someone you're not, and don't use a surrogate to convey your message for you in an attempt to appear unbiased. Wal-Mart and Whole Foods were pilloried in the blogosphere and business press for publishing disingenuous content (see sidebar at right). Such is the community-intensive nature of Web 2.0 that your attempt to deceive may result in a blogstorm of reproach.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David M. Freedman has worked as a financial, legal, and technical journalist since 1978. He has been a media relations consultant and website content developer since 1999. He won a Your Honor Award for public relations from the Legal Marketing Association. (more)



© 2008-2014 David M. Freedman
312-428-6228
Chicago
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SIDEBAR
Web Media: the New Prime Time

As of summer 2008, more people depend on the Internet for news and entertainment than on any other medium
(comScore). People are increasingly consuming web content away from the desktop, using portable devices like smart phones, netbooks, and personal media players.

The number of Americans who have broadband connections in their homes has been increasing by about 8 percent per year, to about 50 or 60 percent of households today, depending on which source you believe (76 percent of households earning more than $50,000, but only 40 percent of rural households).
(sources: PC Magazine, National Broadband Policy Project, Benton Foundation, Progressive States Network)

From a public relations standpoint, it’s no longer a question of whether your clients, prospects, referral sources, colleagues, employees, and job applicants are spending much time online. It’s a question of how you find them, appeal to them, and engage them online, whether they are at a desk, on the road, or almost anywhere else.






SIDEBAR

Inauthentic Conversations Embarrass Wal-Mart & Whole Foods

In 2006, a Business Week article revealed that a travel blog featuring a couple called Laura and Jim, who traveled the country by RV and camped in Wal-Mart parking lots (with a strong pro-Wal-Mart editorial slant), was funded by Wal-Mart through its PR firm Edelman. Embarrassing at best.

O
ver a period of a few years ending in 2006, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey wrote messages on financial discussion boards (including Yahoo! Finance) in which he disguised his identity and praised Whole Foods, and sometimes bashed its competitors. That may not have violated U.S. securities laws (the SEC probed it), but it created a serious public relations challenge for Whole Foods.

The lesson: Be authentic in blogs and chat rooms (oh, and everywhere else).
David M. Freedman, Chicago







about ShareThis
TWITTER: HUH?

What's so cool about Twitter? It is a micro-blogging tool, a streamlined social network, an instant messaging substitute, an RSS-like aggregator, and a "real time" search engine. And it's optimized for mobile phone users.

According to Nielson Online, Twitter is the fastest-growing social networking site in the world by far. Traffic increased by 283 percent from April 2008 to April 2009, and its unique audience grew an astounding 2,500 percent.

Not all Twitter members actually participate, however. About 10 percent of members account for 90 percent of the "tweets" generated. Many people join Twitter, don't perceive benefits, and forget about it. But a growing number of businesses are using it as a communication and PR tool. For example, see:

Wall Street Journal's article "A Tweet in Time Can Avert a PR Mess" (8/3/09)

BusinessWeek's
article for entrepreneurs on using Twitter for marketing and customer service (4/3/09).

Sarah Evans wrote a good article on the Mashable blog (11/10/08) titled "How to Build Community on Twitter," with tips for beginners. Ignore her first overblown sentence: "Your Twitter community is your life line [sic]."