Why Do PR Professionals Still Not Understand Blogging?

by | Aug 2, 2007

Public relations professionals have a nasty little habit of claiming ownership of tools and promotional tactics that go far beyond their own uses. In this post I cover PR pros’ misguided views on both blogging and web links as “currency.”

I was following up on a MyRagan thread of the recent blog ethics discussions, and saw this comment posted by Susan Cellura:

“Isn’t that the beauty of this thing called social media/Web 2.0? We’re defining the “rules” as we go along? More conservatives types disagree with Debbie’s email but others see it as a sensible approach? In Scoble’s book, this marketing issue is touched upon – which is what this is…even though blogs, etc., are not supposed to be selling avenues, so far, at least.”

The last part of that comment – “blogs, etc., are not supposed to be selling avenues” – is baffling to me, because it shows that there is still a huge issue in the PR industry when it comes to blogging. I’d say we need to forget about talking “blog ethics” for a little while, and instead start teaching PR professionals what blogging is all about to begin with.

We’re a very self-centered bunch sometimes. We see things through our little “PR goggles” which blind us to all other aspects of business, and often the Web, in any way that isn’t directly involved with PR.

Maybe I just have a unique perspective because not only am I in PR, but I also run an online business, have a client base predominantly made up of online entrepreneurs, and I’m heavily involved in Web publishing and development in my own right. Maybe I see things differently, because I’m more exposed to all sides when it comes to PR on the Web. Or am I maybe just naive in thinking that it’s “OK” to use tools on the Web for more than PR?

Blogs aren’t a “PR tool”. Let’s get that cleared up first. They’re a “communication tool.” Do blogs have PR value? Of course they do. If they didn’t, we’d all look like a bunch of idiots for fighting over how they should or shouldn’t be promoted, now wouldn’t we?

Blogging for PR is just one very small segment of blogging as a whole. But there are a lot of other reasons people blog. The two biggest reasons that I think are most often overlooked by PR professionals are:

  1. Blogging as a business model in its own right.
  2. Blogging as a marketing tool.

So in response to Susan… Yes, blogs are “supposed” to be selling avenues. I’d even argue that the marketing community beat us to the punch on using blogs. They’re used quite effectively to sell all kinds of products and services. Hell, I’ve seen several top PR blogs using the blog as a tool for selling the blogger’s books or services. Blogs are effective for marketing. Let’s not ignore that. The fact that it may not be “approved” by the PR masses really means squat.

I was also forwarded a link recently by Judy Gombita, highlighting a quote on the Media Guerrilla Blog regarding the value of links. The quote is in a comment left by John Harper:

“…it’s more important than ever to treat links as the legitimate currency they are – not for sale (unless your word is for sale), but as personal recommendations and acknowledgements.”

People are entitled to their opinions. But again, what this demonstrates is the narrow-mindedness and naivety in the PR industry when it comes to online business and PR. Links aren’t a “legitimate currency.” They’re a business model… thanks to good old Google. A lot of people (myself included) make a lot of money selling links on blogs. That’s not going to stop because someone in PR thinks it should. Frankly, I hope it never does, and I see absolutely nothing wrong with selling links.

Now, if you disguised paid for links as personal recommendations, I could see a major problem with that. (And in my own defense, I always distinguish between my sponsored and recommended links as clearly as possible… and for the record, there are currently no sponsored links on this blog other than the Adsense ad units marked clearly.)

But trying to pretend that blogs are all about good will and information or some other nonsense is pretty ridiculous. I’d say it’s time to get with the times. Not a single blogger can say they place any kind of respectable value in every single link on their blog (unless they disable comment links for poster names, comment links in the comments, don’t link to references and news sources that they don’t value enough to share their supposed “currency” with, etc.). I doubt you could find a single blogger treating links as valuable currency, and I doubt you ever will… and you shouldn’t. It’s just not how things work on the Web. Remember, we’re forced to work in reality, and not some PR ideal here.

You can’t operate in online PR if you don’t understand the dynamics of the environment you’re working in. Marketing and PR operate more closely than ever on the Web, and frankly, I get really sick of the fact that half the time it’s the Internet marketers beating us at our own game, while we struggle to even understand what the hell our role is anymore.

For example… the bulk of SEO work is being done by Internet marketers. SEO is actually a PR function… it’s all about gaining exposure in a medium… in this case search engines (which then leads to other coverage, natural linking, etc.). Yet, I know very few PR folks who even understand the fundamentals of SEO, nonetheless accept that it’s a part of their job. All half of us seem to know is what the social media gurus tell us, and without the practical experience to really back much up.

Sorry for the mish-mashed post today. I just can’t help but get a bit worked up after reading half of the crap I see posted online about online PR, blogging and PR, and social media. Maybe I should go back to reading the IM blogs more often… they may be the “gamers” of the social media systems, but at least they stay on top of the latest technologies in ways that put us to shame. And frankly… they piss me off a whole lot less.

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3 Comments

  1. Hi Jenn –

    Amen to that! But I do wonder if we, as digital PR representatives, are really doing all we can to educate our traditional counterparts on the value of online PR. It seems like there are way too many blog posts about the problem and not enough about the solution.

    Any thoughts?

    P.S. I’ve been lurking on and off for a while, but this post inspired me to comment 🙂

    Reply
  2. I think one of the big problems we face is the authority factor. The truth of the matter is that most of the PR professionals who truly understand blogging and other online media tools aren’t the big wigs and the big firm reps with the built-in following to harp on their every word. The people who best understand PR’s potential role in the new media are those who have been intimately involved in these tools from the beginning (and not on the development end). Many of these people are either A) young and more naturally involved with the changing technologies as they happen, or B) relatively unknown b/c they’ve been working in a rather narrow field of PR (or both).

    Personally, I’ve gotten a bit worn out trying to talk to PR people about online PR. With the exception of a few, most act like sheep in this arena, and they blindly follow the people that they know, even if that person doesn’t know what the hell they’re talking about. The worst part is that they really do believe they understand the tools and how to use them most effectively, and they can speak intelligently, so it’s easy to believe them if you don’t know any better.

    PR people really do need to get more in touch with technology trends as opposed to PR trends if they want to make significant progress. They need to stop alienating themselves from the marketing and sales sides of things, when they’re so integrated on the Web. And they need to stop entering every fad they can find just because they feel stupid for being so far behind for so long.

    The Facebook craze is my latest pet peeve (infuriating actually, although I haven’t had time to properly post on the subject). I’ll touch on that later though.

    So the short answer to your question (haha) is no, we’re not doing all we can to educate our traditional counterparts on the value of online PR. But when we do try, they rarely pay attention, so frankly, our time is better spent educating our clients instead, and letting the rest look like idiots when they finally realize how clueless they often are.

    Reply
  3. I agree there is a critical need for ‘traditional’ PR professionals to understand and engage with social media, but too many would rather talk theory than get into action. That’s really discouraging to people who want to share techniques and strategies for online PR, but I believe it is worth persevering in order to ensure PR takes its place the centre of digital marketing instead of becoming a sideline.
    Let’s keep educating clients and our peers.

    Reply

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