PR firms show growing interest in weblogs

Public trust in ‘real people’ is raising public relations firms’ interest in online personal journals to promote brand names and run political campaigns. A new study looks at the new era of “mass personalisation” and professional word-of-mouth marketing.

Growing popular enthusiasm for – and more crucially, trust in – blogs, is attracting the attention of marketers and PR firms eager to promote corporate brand names. Politicians have also jumped on the bandwagon as blogs typically enjoy a high degree of trust from their readers.

Leading global PR firm Edelman and Intelliseek, a marketing intelligence firm and blog provider on the internet, have published the first ever extensive study on blogs.

Entitled Trust “MeDIA”, the study promotes itself as a guide to the ‘blogosphere’ for marketers and company stakeholders. It argues that the blogging phenomenon is challenging traditional views about the control of messages by corporations, but also by politicians. 

The report notes that blogs played a role in disseminating information, recruiting volunteers and raising money in support of candidates in the 2004 US Presidential election. 

Politicians themselves have started to surf the weblog wave to try to increase their public trust ratings, sometimes, it seems, as part of a carefully crafted crisis communication plan. The highly unpopular former French PM Alain Juppé – now temporarily withdrawn from political life after being entangled in legal difficulties – is keeping contact with his supporters through his weblog. 

During the Prodi Commission, Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy very efficiently used personalised letters as a tool to give the public some insight into the way trade negotiations work. 

Under José Manuel Barroso’s Presidency, Institutional Relations and Communication Commissioner Margot Wallström has also got down to publishing her own blog. The site enables the commissioner to convey her personal thoughts on politically sensitive issues such as the EU draft chemicals reform (REACH) and climate change (EURACTIV, 17 Jan. 2005).

To the authors of the Edelman / Intelliseek study, the growing importance of blogging on people’s opinion should not be considered as a passing fad but should rather act as a wake-up call. 

But the tip also comes with a warning. As highlighted in the report, blogs can become a company’s worst PR nightmare as their freedom of speech allows information to get quickly out of control.

For interest groups or political campaigners, one possible pitfall of using blogs is the practice known as ‘astroturfing’. The term, described in the Edelman/Intelliseek guide, amounts to fake grassroots-type people creating weblogs where an agenda-driven organisation, agency, think tank, government agency, etc. pays them to say good things about it without revealing that they’re getting paid.

"We've entered the era of mass personalisation where people expect far greater participation in their favourite brands and companies. For companies, bloggers represent an immediate source of information and feedback, but also an opportunity to engage a rapidly expanding global network of influential, credible, passionate and involved group of real people who communicate constantly," said Pam Talbot, President & CEO, Edelman US.

"Consumers are increasingly turning to other consumers for trusted information, and the blogging phenomenon is the perfect example of this shift," said Pete Blackshaw, Intelliseek's CMO and co-founder of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association.

Blogs [short for weblogs] are online personal journals initially designed by IT specialists and web enthusiasts to comment on specific issues of interest to usually small communities. They are becoming increasingly used by the man in the street too.

With the technology now becoming easy and accessible, weblogs have grown fast in numbers, and some are even attracting more readers than traditional newspapers' websites. 

The phenomenon has reached the point where politicians, lobbyists and business professionals are also entering the blogging business of word-of-mouth truth telling. 

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