Marketing and communications experts like to tell us how the Internet has opened up new opportunities for the industry to reach out and influence people in new, more effective ways. Websites provide information instantly and online social networks offer unique opportunities for companies to tap directly into the customer before he or she makes a purchase.
In the brave new communications world, less importance is being placed on the basic public relations tool—the news or press release—and greater attention is put on relationships.
Increasingly, members of the media view the well-crafted announcement sent out over the wire as old news by the time it arrives. They receive the information, but so does everyone else.
Members of the media—whether it is print, radio, television or the web—now have new sources for information. They are very adept at searching the web, scanning white papers, special interest portal sites and online newsletters. They may find two or three disconnected ideas and piece together their own story lines. Despite what many people might believe, a press release is only the beginning of the process, not an end product in today’s always-online world.
Finding, tracking and handling media coverage of product and company news, issues, information and misinformation is a significant challenge for communications people.
One of the greatest opportunities for companies today—but the most challenging and difficult to quantify—are user reviews through blogs or social networks. It is impossible for public relations to point to a circulation of 10,000 or 1 million and show any true return on investment (ROI) for someone writing a review or talking about a company, product or service.
Studies show that consumers today go online to research a subject, product or solution before they make a purchase. The first thing the prospective customer searches out are user reviews, followed by comparison charts and expert reviews.
Conventional news media may make the consumer aware of the product or service but consumers make their buying decisions from peer recommendations, not from the manufacturer’s website or literature, retail clerk or expert recommendations.
With social network platforms like MySpace, YouTube, Facebook and LinkedIn, thousands of niche interest, professional and avocation site members come together because of a common interest. These websites are also superior avenues for reaching influential decision makers and consumers.
People around the globe are members of these sites because they are able to exchange information, ideas and problems/solutions on specific business, personal or professional topics.
Many horizontal and vertical interest sites have forums, blogs and news available in one location. These sites represent fantastic opportunities for people to get a quick understanding and indoctrination into the tight social network community where common goals and problems are shared and resolved.
Regardless of how the online discussion flows, these social sites are one of the best product/service focus groups in the world. They offer free and open discussions, and even negative statements can yield positive returns for the company in the shape of new policies, new products, new ways of thinking and new methods of working with consumers.
In the evolving digital environment, you have to understand, appreciate and embrace the idea that:
- There is no local market or territory anymore—we work and live in a global market and information community.
- We must have open and continual conversation with our consumers and partners as a group and individually.
- Your company may have 10 million customers but each is an individual with unique wants and needs.
- Once you step into the digital world, you have to take the good with the bad and win one customer at a time.
Public relation professionals have to understand the power and influence that word of mouth, blogs and social networking communications have in the digital world. There is no clear ROI but the dangers of ignoring these communities are obvious.
Public relations or communication professionals who ignore customer issues are missing a golden opportunity to get personal input on the customer’s image of the company, why the individual bought the product or service, what they liked or disliked and what they feel should be improved. It does not take many of these discussions to see a market pattern.
It can certainly be dangerous when you begin your trip into the digital world, but your success depends on your ability to listen to and help your customers. It is the only way you and your company can be certain both make the trip successfully.
Handling your company’s media coverage in the digital world