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Five Reasons to Use Blogs as Public Relations Tools

A post on Kevin Dugan’s Strategic Public Relations blog (http://prblog.typepad.com) recently caught my eye. Dugan discussed an article longtime online marketing genius B.L Ochman highlighting ten “examples of sites, campaigns, and companies that are crying out for blogs.” The article got me thinking, once again, about how companies are missing the blogging boat. To this end, I’ve come up with my own list of five industries that are not capitalizing on the public relations opportunities presented by blogs. My hope is that my ideas will perhaps help foster some creative thinking about how your company or clients can use blogs as effective public relations tools.

1. Those Paradigm Shifters

The satellite radio business is still in its nascent stage, with only two companies (now united as one) – XM Satellite Radio and Sirius. What’s interesting to note is that XM, which launched its service before Sirius, has more than 2.5 million subscribers (Sirius has 600,000), while media gadfly TiVo surpassed the two-million subscriber mark in September. One-time media darling NetFlix has 2.23 million subscribers. Add XM’s and Sirius’s subscriber base together, and you have a customer base that’s either larger or the same size of that of two industries – digital video recorders and mail-based movie subscription service – that are considered “paradigm shifters.”

All three of these industries rely on three forms of marketing: advertising, public relations and word-of-mouth. The latter has been the most important for all three, and has contributed to the organic growth we’re seeing in these industries. However, none of the companies involved in these industry have blogs, and that’s surprising.

At NetFlix, a blog would be a great way to promote upcoming releases and little-known movies that are finding an audience thanks to the service. The satellite radio companies can use blogs to promote programming (both services have unique programming offerings), and TiVo could use a blog as a quasi-marketing device to help push television programming on behalf of advertisers. The news flow in these industries is steady, and blogs would give the companies an outlet to comment on the changing landscape of their respective sectors, and to dispel any consumer myths. What’s amazing is that these are envelope-pushing companies, but they have not embraced a cheap, interactive and non-resource-intensive marketing device.

2. Pet Supply Retailers

Pets are a big business, and as pet owner, I can attest to that. The pet supply business is both a mom & pop and big business sector, with retailers PetSmart and PETCO the biggest names. Both of these companies have very good websites, chock-full of great products and information on pet care, adoption and other subjects. Each also has photo contests, and PETCO links to an outside message board where pet owners can talk about pet-related issues. But why no blogs?

A PETCO or PetSmart blog with pet-related news would be a good way to attract and retain customers. The website of the shelter where I adopted my cat has a Q&A section where locals ask the veterinarian associated with the shelter questions on everything from the best food for a pet to dealing with a depressed animal. Extend this idea to a pet supply retailer’s blog, add news about wacky pets and animals, and – bingo – you have a destination for pet lovers, and a way to extend your brand and increase sales. Connecting the blog to an organization such as the ASPCA and highlighting news stories about the consequences of pet abuse would make it even stronger.

3. Brokerage Firms

Spend a few minutes reading the latest news on Charles Schwab and you’ll see how competitive the brokerage space is. Retail investors need guidance now, more than ever, and the vast majority still rely on full or partial service brokers not only to execute trades and provide guidance but also to provide essential research tools. Instead of capitalizing on these important relationships with consumers, brokerage firms remain mostly faceless entities, and this is one reason why people like me have found an online home writing about investing.

A firm like Schwab, which is cutting fees to attract and retain customers, could easily launch a blog as a value-added service. The blog could be simple, performing the function of tracking daily market-moving events, highlighting research calls, and helping investors understand things like a “triple witch.” What the brokerage firms have failed to realize over the years is that informed investors are more profitable clients than uninformed ones. Blogs can help inform investors better – and turn them into better customers.

4. Airlines

Bad public relations and the airline business go hand-in-hand, but some airlines are trying to break this historic relationship. JetBlue has done a very good PR job, owning up to a mistake publicly and claiming accountability for it. Likewise, SouthWest Airlines has done some shrewd PR by allowing its airline to be the subject of the A&E Network’s reality program “Airline.”

Most airlines have frequent flier programs, and the outreach is generally decent. But they can do better. Blogs highlighting destinations, travel news, airline regulations, flight specials and frequent flier deals could be a hit. I visit the FlyerTalk Forums (http://www.flyertalk.com), and I’m amazed to find out how well-informed frequent fliers are. But casual fliers still make up the bulk of the airline’s business, and they need to be informed as well.

If an airline was to launch a blog where they published exclusive fare specials and provided flight delay updates, airport closings, and other information, it would be a huge step in humanizing the travel experience, and it would help foster goodwill with passengers.

5. Colleges

While many individual departments and professors have blogs, I can’t seem to track down a college or university with a blog of its own. I’m sure one exists, but I just can’t find it at the moment.

College is big business, and colleges fight each year for not only the best students, but the students who will need the least amount of financial aid. Studies conducted each year by organizations like US News and Princeton Review carry big weight with prospective students and their parents, and these studies often portray schools in an inaccurate light. So how do schools battle perception? Blogs, of course.

I’ll use the University of Maryland, one of the three colleges I briefly attended, as an example of how a school can use blogs.

The school’s website (http://www.umd.edu/) provides plenty of information, but like most official university websites, it’s boring. A blog with information about the school that includes hype about its great physics and engineering departments, its history and athletics department, and student life issues would spice things up and give prospective students a reason to keep checking in with the school during the decision-making process. A blog would also provide current students with a clearinghouse of information on campus events, career fairs, deadlines for dropping classes or enrolling in new ones, course offerings, and other relevant news. Working in conjunction with the student newspaper wouldn’t hurt, but I’d like to see schools let students have a separate voice and use blogs as a way to bring information directly to the students in a straightforward fashion.

The ironic thing about picking UMD as my example is that on the school’s website, there was a link to an article about a current student who has actually created new blogging software. Why isn’t the University using it?
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In Conclusion Taking a simple view, blogging is a cheap and effective form of information dissemination that can fit nicely into an overall public relations, marketing and sales program. Start-up costs are minimal, and oversight is simple, with PR people taking the lead to make sure a company’s message is ably and responsibly crafted. At the very least, blogs can be a good customer retention tool, and if successful, blogs can drive sales, create brand awareness and attract new customers.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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