Breaking Into Blogs: The New Channel You Can’t Ignore

In the five minutes it takes to read this article, more than 100 new blogs will be created. Perhaps the hottest topic in the public relations industry, blogs have emerged as the most important new communications tool since e-mail.

Weblogs — personal online journals written by anyone from celebrities to chief executive officers — have created a world of “citizen journalism,” where news reporters and editors are no longer the only ones to determine what is news. According to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 27 percent of U.S. online adults read blogs. A majority of those readers are young, media-savvy consumers in their 20s and 30s.

Many companies and organizations have already started using blogs to communicate with stakeholders. Why? Once dismissed as fads, many blogs have proven to be very powerful alternatives to mainstream media capsdoc.com. And, as key media such as MSNBC continue to create their own blogs, the new channel becomes increasingly integrated with established media.

Another key reason blogs should be on your radar: more and more journalists are receiving streams of blog content via automatic feeds called RSS (Really Simple Syndication). RSS feeds deliver relevant content directly to a personal news reader, similar to a wire service. It’s an easy way for journalists to wade through the blogosphere and follow their favorite companies or topics.

Locally, blogs are also gaining momentum. In April, the Rocky Mountain News announced plans for YourHub.com, an ambitious network of community Web sites that will rely on the community to share news, photos, opinions and event information. For Colorado public relations pros, a new medium like this represents a terrific opportunity to reach local audiences.

If you haven’t considered blogs as part of your comprehensive public relations strategy, it’s time to take a closer look. To get yourself up to speed on blogs, try the following:

– Try It: Download a news reader of your own, add your own feeds and see for yourself how it all works. News readers are available for free download on sites such as FeedReader.com and NewzCrawler.com.

– Do Your Homework: Spend some time searching the Internet for blogs that post content of interest to your company or clients. For help, find an expert who already knows the most influential blogs and how to find them. For many organizations, a good first step is to conduct a blog audit to see what is posted about your company or industry.

– Create Your Own Blog: For many organizations, it makes sense to create a blog that functions as an authority on industry issues or communicates with stakeholders. For help, find an agency familiar with blogs that can help you assemble a blog, brainstorm topics and create updates.

– Know Your Blogger: Reaching bloggers can be a tough prospect. If the blogger is a journalist, you may already have an existing relationship. In any case, be sure to approach bloggers with a spirit of sharing information, rather than traditional “pitching.” Remember, blogging is more about conversations, and less about “pushing” information. That’s also why they’re so popular.

You’ve just started a blog. You have a little traffic, but no one is signing up to your blog’s newsfeed. You’d like to gain loyal readers who return to your blog again and again. How do you make your blog a must-read, and build an audience of loyal readers?

People read blogs to be entertained and to be informed. They love to get the latest news on a topic in which they’re interested. If you’re a news junkie like I am, you probably have a couple of blogs that you visit at least once a day, if not twice.

This gives you a clue on what you need to provide your blog’s visitors so that they turn into loyal readers — share the news in your industry.

Start by setting up a Google Alert on your topic so that you can collect the news. There’s fresh news each day in just about every area. You could set up additional Google Alerts for those companies and individuals who are prominent in your industry.

Create a list of website addresses for companies in your industry, and check several times a month to see what new products they’re promoting. If a company has a blog, subscribe to their newsfeed.

Setting up a community around your blog also helps to win loyal readers.

Encourage readers to post comments by asking for their opinions. You’ll find that you get the most comments if you’re somewhat controversial. This won’t work for every blog of course. If you court controversy in an area like health care, you’ll lose your credibility.

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