Welcome To The World Of 'social Media'
The media world has never been easy but at least it used to be straightforward. Companies knew that if they engaged with newspaper journalists, television reporters and the wires, they would have covered most eventualities.
But in the past few years, the environment has changed dramatically. Companies are now faced with a plethora of confusing web-based media, with alien-sounding names such as blogs, vlogs (video blogs) and podcasts (internet broadcasting).
It is hard to know what these new forms of communication are; it is even harder to know how to use them effectively.
Yet understanding this strange new world is of critical importance. Get it right and you can win yourself friends and influence. Get it wrong and your company, its reputation and its bottom line can suffer, not just at home but across the globe.
This is particularly true of blogs. The word is a shortened version of weblogs, which are essentially web-based diaries. Entries are referred to as 'posts,' the style is usually informal and readers tend to add comments themselves. So blogs are interactive and they have global reach.
Blogs began as a way for individuals to express their feelings or simply pass the time. But companies soon jumped on the bandwagon and many of them now feel compelled to have a blog, simply to show they are part of the 21st century.
Used effectively, blogs can be phenomenally useful. Internal blogs allow employees to raise issues anonymously, without venting their anger beyond the company. And if they are fun, interesting and insightful, blogs can enhance a company's reputation with staff, investors, suppliers and old-style journalists.
But that is a big 'if' and many businesses have messed up in the blogosphere. Take Charles Dunstone, chief executive of Carphone Warehouse. He launched a blog to chart the progress of his company's free broadband offer - but he was soon forced to apologise in cyberspace when the offer proved more popular than he or his staff had expected.
Or the blog that appeared to heap praise on the US retail giant Wal-Mart. Called 'Wal-Marting Across America,' it was ostensibly created by a couple traveling the country in an RV and staying in Wal-Mart parking lots, but it turned out to be underwritten by Working Families for Wal-Mart, a company-sponsored group organized by the PR firm Edelman.
Edelman president Richard Edelman apologised, ironically on his own blog. He said the misinformation had nothing to do with Wal-Mart and was all his firm's idea - but not everyone will believe him and many cybersurfers may omit to read his blog.
Errors can be catastrophic on the web but they can be avoided and forewarned is forearmed. Companies need to understand what blogs do, how they work and how they can work for them. They need to be able to monitor when and where they are appearing on the web and staunch bad publicity at the earliest possible opportunity.
The web is a fantastic tool. It is cheap, easy to use and has massive reach. Ignoring it is not an option. Working the system to your advantage can bring enormous and sustained benefits.
by: Gemma Carey