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Reflection: on blogs and natural selection

15 Apr

Prnewmediaclass Some student bloggers: from left to right, with country of origin. Tor Martin (Norway); me; Elif (Turkey); Olga (back row, Russia); Margarita (front row, Russia), Anderson (Brazil); Nina (Poland); Radhika (India). More students, representing many more nations, were on the other side of the camera. Other class blogs can be found here (scroll down to end of page).

We have a last chance to meet up at the ‘PR and the digital frontier’ talk on 1 May (here’s how to register for free if you’re a student), but otherwise classes have ended, so it’s time for some reflection. Reflection, remember, is something that appears to have been lost according to Marc Prensky:

Reflection is what enables us, according to many theorists, to generalize, as we create "mental models" from our experience. It is, in many ways, the process of "learning from experience". In our twitch-speed world, there is less and less time and opportunity for reflection, and this development concerns many people. One of the most interesting challenges and opportunities in teaching Digital Natives is to figure out and invent ways to include reflection and critical thinking in the learning… We can and must do more in this area.

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On comments and conversations

12 Apr

So, you’ve started a blog. Why not manage expectations by establishing your house rules (here’s an example from Wolfstar Consultancy)?

One of the most important considerations is how to handle, and encourage, comments. Karen Russell offers a useful primer.

And here’s a superb example of blog-as-conversation (or rather, as blogging as the new public sphere.) First came the thesis: Brendan Cooper’s claim that we should get over our squeamishness about ghostwritten blogs. Next was the antithesis: Simon Collister’s defence of the importance of trust. Finally, the synthesis. The discussion has continued in the comments on Brendan and Simon’s posts (over 20 comments in total).

If there’s anything as important, lively and dynamic being discussed in any academic PR forum today then I’d love to be made aware of it. Two impressive practitioners from two heavyweight consultancies debating an important issue in public, with some significant contributions from around the world (Gerry McCusker, Doc Searls, David Jones, Ian Green, Stuart Bruce and many others). Good stuff: now who said blogging’s dead?

Link love from top blog

14 Mar

From the community of UK PR bloggers (students, practitioners, academics), Stephen Davies must be at or close to the top of class (Drew Benvie’s the main challenger: he’s hiring btw).* Stephen has Google juice to spare.

So it’s good to hear that he’s found some of our student bloggers. The links will be good for you.

* I’m aware that I’ve potentially offended hundreds with this off-the-cuff remark. If you want league tables, Brendan Cooper‘s your blogger.

Sunday papers

9 Mar

Huffington_post I don’t agree with the premise behind the Observer magazine cover story: that ‘blogging has never been bigger’. Replace ‘bigger’ with ‘better’ and I’d have no problem with the argument.

Take my media this morning as an example. I’ve fallen into a Sunday routine of reviewing my class blogs (scroll to end for the links). Yes I receive RSS updates, but the working week’s often too hectic for me to keep up. So just as the Sunday papers are a more leisurely and less news-driven read than the dailies, so do I like blogging (or reading blogs) on a Sunday.

Most of the class are now into their stride, though there still may be some confidence and cultural issues (blogs are discouraged in some of the countries they come from). This week students have noted international women’s day (one has observed the feminisation of the PR field); they have noted the results of the Russian presidential election and the brilliant virals produced by Obama’s supporters in the US; they have continued to discuss propaganda, democracy, lobbying, celebrity role models and some new media topics (eg the rise and rise of Google).

Here’s what I notice: that the froth and immediacy has moved elsewhere (Twitter, Facebook status updates) leaving blogging as a considered personal publishing space. Note how many in the Observer list of ‘the world’s 50 most powerful blogs’ are in effect media businesses (ie newspapers).

Open source teaching: comment policies

25 Feb

It’s my theme of the week: that answers are out there, even if not in the lecturer’s head. I’ve had two questions on blog comment policies that I’m not well equipped to answer, so I’ll discuss them here.

Q. What is comment moderation?

A. The anonymity of the web brings out the best – and worst – in people. There’s lots of encouragement and free advice available, but some people just can’t resist a fight. As Kami Huyse has put it, her blog is her own private space, so conversations there should be conducted on her terms. Some blog owners don’t allow automatic publication of comments; blog moderation works like the letters page to a newspaper. It’s the reader’s page, but the letters editor gets to decide who appears there, and whether their contribution is edited. Comment moderation is the process of reviewing comments and deciding whether to publish them. It builds in a delay and so reduces the immediacy of most blog conversations.

Q. Should I respond to comments on my blog?

A. I’ve long held that I have my say on my blog; the comments give other people a chance to jump in. Other, better bloggers believe that it’s only polite to welcome people to their blogs and join in the discussion on equal terms. Here’s a typical blog post from the prolific Neville Hobson: of the eight comments, he’s contributed two. It’s like being a good party host, popping up to chat, to fill people’s glasses and to make introductions.

Another senior PR blogger chooses to send personal emails to those commenting on his blog. This avoids the appearance of vanity and is very flattering to those receiving the ‘hand written’ message. But like all these options, it’s time consuming. Note how successful people manage to find time…

One approach is to state your blogging policy up front. Here’s the Terms of Use statement from Neville Hobson’s blog. It anticipates all of the points raised here in a professional manner.

Why blog? Because it’s fun

20 Feb

So says Philip Young; blogging brings him some material benefits too…

Blog posts: think link

18 Feb

For a class today, here are some thoughts on writing blog posts. (Posting this on the web reduces the time taken plodding through PowerPoint in class).

Here are three types of blog post (just for starters).

  1. Opinion/reflection. A post using the personal pronoun (‘I’) throughout. These reveal something of the author, but tend to reflect their internal world of thoughts and feelings, not the external world of events. (The great diarists, remember, are read today because they commented on the world of events, not just on their feelings. Think of Samuel Pepys.)
  2. Comment on event. Events and ideas are buzzing round the world. Connect to one of these events and add your brief thoughts on it. You can be serious; you can be frivolous. Example: ‘I welcome an independent Kosovo. But I wonder how long it will be before we (ie England) are knocked out of a European Championship; or we (ie Scotland) are defeated at Davis Cup tennis or we (who cares?) are humiliated by this new Balkan state in the Eurovision song contest?’
  3. Link post. I’m busy; you’re busy. If you’re not busy, you’re probably bored. Blogs can act as filters to save us from time wasting. If there’s something you found valuable, link to it to recommend it to others. I sometimes link so I’ll know where to find it again. Social bookmarking is taking on this role, but some like to integrate their bookmarks with their blogs.

How long is a blog post? As short as possible. Take your lead from letters to newspapers, which are typically less than 200 words. The Vice-Chancellor of this university writes what is in effect a daily blog post of 200 words. Each working day. ‘A little and often’: advice for watering house plants applies also to feeding blogs.

One for all or all for one?

5 Feb

There’s something personal and informal (conversational even) about a blog. That’s why most bloggers are individuals. There’s added value when the individual represents an organisation – but we still tune in to hear the individual’s voice.

Corporate blogs don’t make much sense. Whose voice are we listening to? If it’s an anonymous copywriter, then there’s something dishonest in the fiction. It it’s a senior manager, then why not name names? There are ways to aggregate individuals into a group (like Hill & Knowlton’s Collective Conversation), but in general corporate blogs don’t excite.

Yet there’s been postive commentary on a new Coca-Cola blog written by the company’s archivist. MSc Marketing students who weren’t too enthralled with my talk based on The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR might like to take a look at this. How does this blog support Coca-Cola’s brand strategy?

Blogging for assessment

3 Feb

This coming week, I’m briefing some students on their blogging assignment – the first time I’ve made blogging a compulsory part of the curriculum. I have mixed feelings about this, but the strong upside is that we’re in good company. Others (students, their teachers) have gone down this route, so we can benefit from shared experiences and collective wisdom – and I can save time by pointing to Karen Russell’s Tips for promoting PR student blogs.

Just remember, promotion isn’t your starting point. As Karen says, this comes after you’ve created a blog and begun posting some original content to it.

Don’t sell, tell

8 Jan

The key phrase for me from The Art and Science of Blogger Relations, an ebook from Brian Solis, is this:

It’s the difference between commission and fixed salary – it’s all related to the ability to sell a story vs. tell a story. (p. 49)

Think of the role of the PR practitioner as storyteller, not as sales representative.

In this (and in so much of the territory covered in the book) there’s little to distinguish blogger relations from media relations. Especially when many of his blogger examples, like Chris Anderson, are well known reporters.