Public Relations Blogging

CoverbackwegmanI find the idea of public relations people blogging a little disturbing.  I can point to a dozen good marketers who are honest, ethically grounded, and smart.  These are people who write with passion and authenticity using a voice that conveys their convictions and appeals to the truth-seeker in me.  But there is a process in the PR world, a process that involves ad agencies and clients as well as the righteous voiced PR writer.  And Blogging is writing, that’s about all it is.  Blogging is not taking a meeting.  Blogging has no flagpoles and little flagpole up-runnery to test salutations.  The BlogOn 2005 conference was aimed at flacks and ad-men, or so it seemed to me.  And the peek behind the curtains, while fascinating, did little to suggest that we should leave these people in the same room with loaded keyboards.  The architecture of social software is stressed by the challenges of the market.   The market will always test opportunities for a little profit. In  the seventeenth century, and before, you had folks who would chisel little bits of precious metal off their coins before spending them.  In the 21st century we have people who will debase the currency of reputation with blog-spam. [update: dog-lady picture on right copyright William Wegman.  Thanks to RB for the attribution.]

David Weinberger gave a dynamite keynote today at BlogOn.  Here is what I can recall.  (As usual, the network wasn’t up to the task of providing realtime online access for the several dozen people who could have used it).

First David gave an example of how a company should not "blog," a
pathetic case featuring a web presence ginned up by the
client/agency/pr approach to media, an example of how not to do it and
what not to do: the Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit "Blog.".  From the attempt to engage readers with bad copy to the
bizarre "see how long you can click on this spot" contest, David sees
this as pathetic and I agree with him. It’s an advertising effort posing as a blog.  BUT…

Helmet

David is not always right.  He says blogging is not about cats, and I beg to differ.  This cat results in really high hit counts for whoever steals the image.  It is an example of the "awwww" factor, a well documented if sneaky way to improve web traffic as measured by hit count.  Or take this cat on the left with the lime helmet.  The first time I posted this cat (which represents the "WTF?" factor) I had thousands of hits on it.  So if part of blogging is about traffic then cat-blogging RULZ!   (I use that zed advisedly).

On the other hand, David is right often enough that we can forgive him his error regarding cat blogging.  For example he pointed out that the web is almost infinitely extensible with marginal cost increases for expanded volume that are laughably small compared to hard copy print.  He cited the differences in scope between Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica.  His delineation of this was nuanced and these notes don’t begin to capture the discernment regarding Wikipedia that he shared.  But on a gross level, Britannica is self limited to 65,000 well researched topics because that’s what fits in the print volume.  Wikipedia has over half a million topics, perhaps not as well researched as Britannica’s but good enough for what they’re for.  And they are continuously being improved.

This is an example of how and why publications filter interest, while blogs and wikis do not.

Among other things David may be wrong about is his assertion that blogs are not journalism.  There are many people ready to argue about this.  But David says that blogs are a recommendation mechanism.  He points to the long tail (the area under the long tail is much larger than the are under the mass media head of the curve before the asymptotic inflection point on the x axis) and asserts that blogs are not about individual bloggers, but again… many might argue about this.

David says that we bloggers are writing ourselves into existence, and here we have the sacred text that no one will argue about althoough many of us will have different interpretations of what that means.

He talked about the importance of writing badly…  readers will forgive your bad poetry, he says.  And I thought of my brief conversation with Tony Pierce, a guy who writes badly well, very well.

He talked about links as little acts of generosity and displayed the Doc Searls blog to illustrate.

He pointed to the New York Times and showed us that there are only four links external to the site, and all are to advertisers.  He said the New York Times is internally referential, thus an echo chamber, thus narcissistic.  Or at least that’s what I heard.

  • other great stuff:  multiple subjectivities… interlinked conversations….can’t guarantee the best information, but you’re going to get good enough information which is good enough for conversation
  • "multi-dispute-ism"  … there’s room for difference, not like the testosterone battles of a barroom where there’s a winner and a loser and everybody goes away mad.
  • blogging is not about "you" (where you is the company…)
  • blogging, best if taken internally… blogging does knowledge managemnet at a fraction of the cost of KM systems
  • LISTEN/AUDIT(WHAT BLOGGING IS HAPPENING IN THE COMPANY)/ENGAGE/GIVE UP (give up control of what is happening on the corporate blog)
  • don’t insist on being right, don’t be boring
  • your market is people talking with one another

This keynote was worth the price of admission, although I heard that later some of the addie folks thought he was a little hard on the newbies at Juicy Fruit.

Posted in Blogging and Flogging
7 comments on “Public Relations Blogging
  1. Bruce says:

    thanks for the thoughtful post which illustrates everything good about blogs — good writing, personal voice, gonzo reporting, bizarre pictures, linkage — and some of the drawbacks — cats, Doc Searls references, expressions of disappointment with the New York Times, lack of linkage (i.e. Tony Pierce).

    Wish I coulda been there!

  2. Update… last night my room mate was howling for me to turn out the light and get in the sack. So I tossed and turned a little because I posted without at least a re-read and some linking. I’m going back in there now to add some links, and I’ll mention here that the bizarre dog lady pic was lifted from RageBoy’s Mystic Bourgeoisie site. The kitty in a helmet came my way via email a few years ago.

  3. the Roommate says:

    Given the time of night, roommates always have the right to howl. . . And about the NYT, some of us more benighted consumers read it online as a just an electronic version of the paper one, so having only self-referential links may be, in fact, okay. And it certainly is okay from the corporate journalism perspective, to which we would never apply the word “generous”.

  4. fp says:

    The room mate herself admits to being a little sententious, so one has the right if not the obligation to take the preceding comment with some lime and a lot of salt. At least she didn’t get any croissant crumbs onthe keyboard while she was typing that.

  5. Bruce says:

    as a loyal reader, I’d already become familiar with Mr. Pierce, I just felt like being clever and giving you a hard time, ’cause friends can do that. 🙂

  6. fp says:

    Yes they can. Thanks “Bruce.” One day corporations and governments and neighborhoods will value freedom of expression and the cultural taboos that keep some great marketing and PR writers blogging pseudonymously will be lifted. On the other hand, the pseudonym thing is a little kinky, like a masque, and there’s something kind of fun in that.

  7. Thank you, Frank. Great seeing you there.

    As for my sometimes being wrong, all I can say is: How dare you! I have never been wrong. Except for this paragraph, of course.

    In point of fact, I tried to say that blogging is *also* about cats and flipped through three screenshots of cat blogs, asking why the hell blogs shouldn’t be about cats. It actually pisses me off that people think it’s a *criticism* of blogging to say that people write about their cats in them.

    As for the NYT criticism (which I of course meant as a criticism of the MSM in general): You heard right.

    The defense rests.

    (Thanks again for the generous coverage, Frank.)

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