Sugar Ray Leonard was one of the all-time great counter punchers. As a ringside pundit once noted, Leonard would “make the other man come get him – and when he actually cornered him, Leonard would make him pay.”
Online PR needs to become more like Sugar Ray – and in fact, it already is.
One of the most rapidly developing areas in online public relations is not only monitoring what’s happening in the blogs, web pages, etc., but responding.
“It’s very similar to the kinds of monitoring fast response that Wal-Mart is doing these days to counteract its critics,” notes Jim Horton, a principal in New York City’s Robert Marston And Associates, a corporate communications firm covering web-based issues for more than a decade.
That kind of rapid response mode is sorely needed “depending on the kind of account one is dealing with,” Horton points out, “particularly retail kinds of companies that can have a lot of critics that show up out of nowhere.” Such companies need to be involved in actively monitoring and engagement.
It is a stance, Horton says, that has not yet become very popular across corporate America. But it is out there. “There are companies like Continental Airlines, which actually has a blogger who engages with other bloggers. Of course, you have a lot of bloggers out there. I think Microsoft has more than 200 of them.”
A degree of experience and even expertise is called for, Horton suggests. “Just because someone blogs doesn’t necessarily mean they’re engaging their critics. That’s one area that needs to develop a lot more quickly than it has been.”
Offense has not been a problem for online PR professionals. In fact, as Horton is quick to note, “Essentially that’s what blogging is largely about, and that is a pretty well developed understanding – as long as people understand how to blog and don’t turn it into a commercial. But I think the proactive nature of blogging is pretty well appreciated, and has been for the last year and a half or two years.”
That said, Horton feels there are still not as many PR people engaged in doing that as there should be. “Often, when you do see blogs quite often they’re not being done by PR people. They’re being done by somebody in a marketing department or some place like that, which is sort of interesting, shall we say.”
What’s next for online PR? Most likely it will continue to follow a lot of the traditional media that are hurriedly going online at this point, particularly since newspaper circulations are declining nationwide. Horton thinks the coming months and years will see online public relations efforts covering a lot more of the traditional bases of PR “in the sense that most of the major media, from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal to Business Week to you name it will be doing their primary work online.”
In essence, Horton concludes, “a lot of our work will simply consist of working online all day long, dealing with reporters, customers and critics online. That’s already begun, it just isn’t pervasive yet.”
Now let’s see that footwork.