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The new home of PR Studies

27 Aug

My old PR Studies blog lives on as an archive, but many of the previous posts have been migrated here.

My main focus now is on the magazine I edit (Behind the Spin). I also manage various other blogs, so I’m pausing to consider whether to continue this personal blog about public relations education.

Those interested in my thoughts on this topic might like to read Share This: The Social Media Handbook for PR Professionals.

Milestone reached

5 Apr


It's a minor and meaningless achievement, but one I'd been edging close to for some time. 

Despite only posting here weekly and spending more time on an online magazine, class blog and subject group  blog, my traffic to continues to rise (though only slowly).

I've just achieved average daily page views of 100 over the seven year life of this blog.

The absolute numbers are small – and unimportant to me – but the average is pleasing and the movement is still in the right direction.

There may be some lessons here for newcomers in building a presence despite infrequent posting, so here's my analysis:

  • Much of my traffic comes from searches, so having an archive of searchable content helps.
  • If I was keen to build traffic further, I would write more on popular search terms: 'meaning of PR', 'PR dissertation' etc.
  • Being around for a long time (and from back when PR blogs were a rarity) means I'm well connected in terms of inbound links. My Google PageRank has been as high as 6, but is still a respectable 5.
  • I'm spreading myself across a number of blogs, but have kept the content focused on this one. Though it's not a scholarly place, I do focus on the study of public relations, from an educator's and a student perspective.
  • The first few weeks of a blog are easy and exciting, with visitor numbers doubling again and again. But it's hard to sustain the momentum so bloggers need to plan for the different phases they will go through.

How I read blogs

23 Feb

I know. There's already something quaint about the word, and 'weblogs' looks archaic now.

Besides, it's hard to define something that runs from Twitter updates (microblogs) via Tumbr and WordPress to fully-fledged content management systems. How can you compare a student's blog with the Huffington Post (sold for $315m)?

So how do I read frequently-updated webpages created by PR students and practitioners? Here are some personal tips:

  • First of all, I have to know you're out there. If you want to encourage people to your blog, put the link on your Twitter profile page and comment on other people's blogs (this will embed a hyperlink back to your site). Start networking and start sharing.
  • On your blog or website, make sure you've updated your About entry. It's the first thing I look at when checking out new blogs, and it should be the first thing you fix.
  • I often read blog entries in Google Reader and only click through if I want to comment or check another page. So, for me, blog design is less important than blog content.
  • I might look at how many comments you receive, but it's not a show stopper. Seth Godin's impressive, but he gets no comments at all (he doesn't allow them).
  • How often do you post? There's no simple answer, but less frequently than monthly and your blog looks untended. You need to cut the grass regularly in the summer.
  • Here's my hierarchy. First, I need to find you; then I'll subscribe to your blog; finally, if I want to recommend you I may add you to my 'blogroll'. Gain attention, merit interest, earn trust.

Why Sundays are still special (in PR)

16 Jan

On the face of it, there's nothing special about a Sunday. It's just another shopping day; just another day of professional sport.

Sunday is a religious holiday for just one of the world's three great monotheistic religions – and in this part of the world only a minority attend church regularly.

Yet a Sunday is still valuable as a punctuation mark in a busy, monotonous week. It's a pause; a semi-colon (like that).

When PR people were primarily media relations advisers, the better practitioners knew the value of announcing news on a Sunday. The 'Sunday-for-Monday' story was well-established practice, since Monday's newspapers are being produced from quiet newsrooms today and there's less competition for space in a Monday paper.

Something similar is going on in the blogosphere. It's a quiet day, so a good time to get noticed (or to get ahead of the pack by preparing for the week ahead).

Here are three blog posts I've noticed today. What's more, they're all reflections on milestones in life from three different ages of man (and woman). Leading with the youngest first:

  • Jazz Chappell has life ahead of her, and I hope to help not hinder by highlighting her exceptional early promise.
  • Wayne Burdett is in a tougher place having graduated in a recession and during a period of public spending cuts. He's charting his challenges in finding worthwhile work and I hope the process of blogging will help (it should be cathartic, at least).
  • Shonali Burke wishes herself a happy birthday and provides a photo gallery of her serene-looking progress through life.

(I've not met any of these three, but feel I'm getting to know them through social media).

Post sparingly, comment frequently

17 Dec

Participation inequality Remember the 90-9-1 rule?

This suggests that in a group of people, the overwhelming majority (90%) will be 'lurkers' – happy to visit blogs etc, but unwilling to participate actively.

Only 9% will even participate to the extent of leaving a blog comment, while a select 1% are the active content creators.

Despite the low barriers to entry and in spite of the growth of social networking sites built on user-generated content, these figures still seem broadly right.

But might they be too high? Are there really 9 commenters to every blogger?

My 862 posts on this blog to date have encouraged 1414 comments – that's fewer than two comments for each blog post.

For new bloggers, the situation is even worse – and it can be discouraging. Who wants to be that person on the street shouting at the passing traffic with people hurrying by and avoiding eye contact?

So here's what I've been doing over the past few weeks. I've only posted once a week to this blog (but more frequently to other group blogs I run). But I have been trying to leave encouraging comments on new student blogs I've discovered (the list down on the right sidebar has some new additions and my RSS feed has several more I'm following).

But even then I doubt I've managed a 1:9 ratio. But it's probably a good target to aim at. Why not make some other people happy today by spreading some seasonal cheer? Who knows, you may get some return visits (and even some comments) by doing so.

Blogging: a surprising survival

1 Dec

JazzChappellPR Blogging is old. Student essays that claim it as new based on a quotation from a book published five years ago make me smile.

After the peak of expectation in 2003-2005 came the trough of disillusion as first Facebook and then Twitter became the place for short status updates and community conversations.

Yet blogging survived, and in some areas is even seeing a revival.

Here are five reasons for blogging's surprising survival:

Continue reading

State of the blogosphere 2009

19 Oct

Technorati's annual report is available here. What's happening to blogging now the chatter's all on Twitter and the buzz is on social networks?

We tend to be eduated, male, middle aged and affluent. Then there's the rise of the professional blogger, though in the past year Steve Rubel has defected from blogging to 'lifestreaming'. As he explains:

'Lifestreaming to date has meant aggregating all of one's streams at a single point. This was the value of Friendfeed. However, it's evolving to mean using a hub as a launching point for your content, syndicating it out to your "spokes" (eg the social networks where one chooses to engage) and then conversing about it in both locations.'

Private citizen, public blog

17 Jun

A high court judge has ruled that "blogging is essentially a public rather than a private activity", so unmasking an anonymous police officer who had previously won a literary award for the Nightjack blog (no longer available.) The news is reported widely; I've chosen to link to the FT's dispassionate account.

Libertarians are incensed. Here's their case: whistleblowers have an important role to play in a free society, exposing hypocrisy and wrong-doing. Without the cloak of anonymity, most would remain silent and our society could suffer as a result. Their case is even stronger in a totalitarian state: if speaking out would expose you to repression at the hands of those in power, then anonymous protest is the only viable route for most people. Essentially, this is an appealing argument in favour of free speech.

Ironically, this blogger was exposed following investigative work by The Times newspaper. Free speech for the newspaper has resulted in no expression for the blogger (and a warning from his employer).

Let's call the counter-argument the corporate perspective. This argues that employees have a contractual and professional responsibility to act in the best interests of the employer by, for example, not revealing confidential information. People dealing with matters considered to be of national security are governed by the Official Secrets Act; and most professionals and politicians struggle when personal conscience clashes with collective responsibility.

These questions have always existed. What's new is the ease in which personal publishing (blogging) can move from the private into the public sphere. What starts as a personal diary can end up being viewed as mass media. What lessons do we learn from this?

  • Transparency requires that, in all but exceptional circumstances, blogs are stronger for coming from a named, identifiable source. The first place I turn to when visiting a new blog is the About page.
  • The act of publishing means making something public. The rules have changed, though: 'publish then filter' means that most of what bloggers write remains effectively anonymous. But the advice has to be: 'Write with consideration. Your words may be read, even years from now.'
  • Organisations need guidelines for employees on using social media. It's not a straightforward question of banning – or controlling – all engagement. Most organisations want to believe they operate as open, not closed, systems and many employees (certainly most knowledge workers) resent attempts at 'command and control'. It's not a narrow legal question; it's a broad matter of the mission and culture of the organisation and should be the domain of corporate public relations practitioners and advisers.

Blogs are boring

27 Feb

It's ages since the year of the blog. Since then, Facebook has gained ground as a social network; YouTube has the appeal of moving images; and Twitter has all the buzz and is making headlines.

So why am I so happy that blogs are boring?

  • Just having one no longer counts; it's what you do with it that matters (like turning one into a newspaper or a magazine, or provoking an angry reaction from Ryanair)

  • Blogs are ideal for learning, and some obscurity is helpful for this process - though it's also encouraging when a novice blogger receives a comment from Seth Godin

  • Information overload is a problem, so fewer and more substantial posts are welcome

  • Blogs are containers for words, but you can also put photos, videos, podcasts, news feeds, Twitter and Facebook updates into the container

The power of the personal

26 Nov

That was interesting: something of a small scale PR and social media experiment.

I’ve been blogging here for five years: 702 posts attracting 1093 comments to date (or about 1.5 comments per post). If I’d followed best practice I could have doubled my comment count by studiously commenting in response to others’ comments. But I’m a bit old fashioned, and tend to feel that I get enough of a say on my own blog, and should leave the comment space for others. Not best practice, I know (this form encourages conversations).

The last post was a one line entry with a link to a news story on another site. Despite the opportunity to comment on my news over at Behind the Spin, 14 of you had your say back here (a vastly higher comment count than I’m used to).

Sarah has put her finger on it. It’s a rather shameless piece of attention seeking (my blog, me me me) – but it clearly works. I suppose if you’re reading this, it might suggest some level of interest in who’s writing this blog.

But the relative lack of comments at Behind the Spin needs some explaining too (three to date on that news story, but one of these is from me and one from another member of the magazine team). Here’s my explanation. A magazine is less personal than a blog – and rather more perfect as it’s edited. Leaving a comment, while technically just as easy, is psychologically much harder. After all, who is the comment aimed at – the article’s author (anonymous in the case of our news pieces), or the magazine’s editor. And who might respond? Is anyone reading?

So personal works best. We’ve always known this in public relations (it’s why word of mouth recommendation works). But where does this leave corporate blogs? Personal works; just don’t expect a more confessional style here. I’m not that shameless. Honest. One award; one mention in a new book on PR (PR – a persuasive industry?); and one self-indulgent announcement. Enough already.