Archive for August, 2008

The importance of being web-earnest

I think ignorance is a bliss sometimes. However, more often than not, it’s a curse. I can’t really understand why even today many companies still don’t realise how important it is to have an appealing website.

The website, and especially, the front page of it, is the visit card of any brand, big or small. When you first get a visitor to your website (unless someone misclicked on a pop-up lottery message) it means that you’re already got someone’s interest. To keep visitors reading on or clicking further depends on how good your website is.

Always have as few information as possible on the front page: too many links or buttons look messy and confusing. There shouldn’t be too much text either: a couple of paragraphs with invitation to read on are much better. Avoid having important information below visible screen space:  a lot of people will overlook it.

A good combination of audio-visual media is very effective for grabbing attention, but too flashy websites are not desirable, as they take too long to load and remind advertisements.

Always keep in mind who your audience is, and write for them. If you’re in B2B business, and your website is primarily for corporate customers, don’t use language for end-users, and vice-versa.

Keep a simple language overall. I think that a perfect balance between corporate and informal style is the best. Again, it largely depends on your main audience. Proofread, don’t overlook typos and use Plain English. I read some websites which are using words so complicated that even I’ve never heard of, and my vocabulary is significantly larger than that of an average person.

Always have pictures of the employees on your website – people want to see who is behind the curtains, because people want to do business with…people.

And most importantly – include some opportunities for interactivity. Corporate blogging is a great way to interact with your audience. Make it easy to leave comments, and ask questions. To blog regularly is more important than to blog frequently. Don’t promote your own products, instead, tell a story about them which will interest your audience, and give them some informative value.

Make it fun: include videos, or even podcasts, with informal interviews with management and clients (if they don’t mind). It’s much more fun to watch a live video, than read a dry news release.

If you’re a serious company, which provides quality products and services – you’ll probably succeed anyway, whether your website is good or bad. But do yourself a favour, and spare a great deal of extra resources you’re using today to convince your market about it.

Blogger relations: ‘whys’ and ‘hows’

I thought I’d devote a post to the subject I’ve been working on for several months while writing my Master thesis: blogger relations and its role in PR. I’ve been meaning to share my experiences and knowledge with you for some time now, but never got around to do it.

To begin with, blogger relations, or blogger outreach, encompasses more than just favorable posts about a certain product or brand written by famous bloggers. Webloging, videoblogging and microblogging – can all be part of a successful blogger outreach campaign. Blogger relations ideally should be combined with other social media tactics: bloggers and their readers would most likely want to know more about your brand by looking for online pictures, videos, podcasts and informative and interactive website.

However, do not use all possible social media applications unselectively. Do a thorough research beforehand to find out where and what your target audience might be spending time on. A good principle to keep in mind: less is more.

When to use blogger relations as a part of marketing mix:

1. Your primary goal is a long-term reputation management, rather then short-term sale-success.
2. Your product or services are not self-explanatory, and require informational cognitive approach to marketing, rather than visual appeal.
3. You’re niche-positioned brand which appeals to a certain segment of publics. The smaller the segment is, the more you should consider blogger outreach (or social media strategy in general, for that matter). One of the brilliant explanations for this is a Long Tail theory. Read more here.
4. You’re committed to invest time and resources in online marketing in the time to come. Blogger outreach demands higher degree of commitment, and is more time-consuming than traditional media relations.
5. You are proactive in your corporate strategy, thinking dynamically rather than incrementally.
6. You are struggling with getting MSM coverage, and you want to get into the journalists spotlight.
7. You have ambitions to dominate the world in your industry sector.

So how to get started?

1. Start by monitoring the blogosphere to find the influencers in your particular sphere of interest.
2. Start listening to these conversations on the regular basis.
3. Try blogging yourself, or introduce a team/corporate blog on your website. Note: blog must include the opportunity to easily comment on it (without requirement to log in, or to register beforehand). Some companies have gotten this wrong: just posting articles on your website is not blogging.
4. Comment on other blogs. Make your comments interesting, which add value to the blogger and the ongoing conversation.
5. Link to your website/your blog wherever possible.
6. Never bribe the blogger to give you a positive coverage. For one paid-for positive post, you’ll get hundreds of negative ones, and you risk loosing credibility forever.
7. Instead of waving with free-products (which is actually quite ethical unless you demand to get a ROI for it), appeal to blogger’s ego: bloggers love to be among the few chosen ones to review a product or a company.

Why to get involved in blogger relations?

Employing blogger relations in your marketing campaign will sufficiently improve chances to increase the scope of your campaign. Today blogs are enjoying readership that rivals that of traditional media, and this tendency moves in the direction of blogs. Blogger outreach is an excellent step towards achieving WOM and online buzz about your brand. As journalists increasingly monitor blogosphere for their topics of interest, your chances to get into the mainstream media without any effort on your behalf are getting higher. Variety of multimedia channels fragmented media users, and now it is much easier to reach exactly your targeted market – you don’t have to guess who and where they are: successful blogger relations will get your target to come to you instead. Interlinked nature of blogosphere gives you potential to spread your message to millions of audience (potential customers and brand ambassadors) – hence, the chance to dominate the world. If you’re good enough for that, now you have a chance to do it with almost no expenses involved.

Once you’ve made your official appearance online, you should maintain it: it will cost you a good deal of time, so think twice before you get out there.

Norwegian PR industry and social media

Summer is probably the worst possible time of the year for a newly graduate to get a job in Norway. I and my colleagues, who also have higher degrees in business studies, have experienced it on our own skin. And nothing is worse than involuntary, prolonged holidays.

For myself, I was hoping that gaining a master degree in PR (which is not available in Norway) and further specialising in a new and exciting area, such as social media relations, would give me a competitive edge on the job market. It still remains to be seen, but one thing is clear – it did not give me any advantage on Norwegian PR arena.

The first thing which I had to adjust my expectations to was that PR-agencies are not carrying the flag of social media (if they are carrying any flags in Norway at all). Its media and advertising agencies, which are most proactive in trying the digital approach to communicate with customers. Some of their attempts which I stumbled at surfing the Web are quite good, though some are still poor and unethical. However, they do deserve credit for innovation and dynamic thinking.

But the PR agencies, which have chosen to specialise in digital marketing, have gotten it all wrong. Social media is about socialising, networking and sharing. It is rulled by Mavens, who draw their influence from being ultra open to any valuable knowledge, and are willing to pass it on. It isn’t about arrogance and reservation. Social media is about opening doors, not shutting them. Maybe this is the reason for why PR industry is still to take off in Norway.