BurrellesLuce/Kent State Blog Study, Part Two — Some insights from the in-depth interviews

bl.gifOn Jan. 29 I posted some initial findings from the Kent State blog-use-and-monitoring study. Jeanette Drake and I just completed the project, with support from BurrellesLuce. It included in-depths with 54 of the 938 survey participants.

This post offers some highlights. It also offers some observations that don’t appear in the paper. Since this blog isn’t an academic forum, I don’t feel guilty about mixing in some interpretation and suggestions for action. Those suggestions will strike veteran PR bloggers as basic, but will benefit readers who have less experience with social media.

ksu.gifOne caveat: Our study is exploratory, and uses a self-selecting sample. We mustn’t try to project the data onto a general population.

Oh, and I’m sorry about the length. To paraphrase Twain: If I’d had more time I’d have written less.

If you missed my original post, please check it out. But if you’re pressed for time, here’s a CliffsNotes version: Fewer than 20% of PR and marketing professionals surveyed say they have a “formal procedure” for monitoring the content of blogs. About the same number, just 18.5%, say they use blogs to help their clients or employers connect with stakeholder groups. Only about 10% have policies governing employees who blog about work-related topics.

So while blogging is ubiquitous in our Web-enabled world, most PR and marketing folks we contacted aren’t monitoring them, nor are they using them as communication tools.

In-depth interviews (via email) posed some “why” questions to help us explain the findings. Keep in mind that these observations are based on responses to open-ended questions, so they required some interpretation.

Why PR pros don’t monitor blogs. Two primary reasons surfaced: 1) no budget for staff or services to do the job; 2) no perceived need to do the job. “It hasn’t been an issue,” one respondent said of blogs. “Right now it is not impacting our organization,” said another.

Some expressed concern that blog monitoring is a complex and time-consuming process. In fact, searching and monitoring blogs isn’t all that tough in a world of Google Alerts, Technorati searches, et. al. So perception doesn’t match reality in this case.

Suggested action: Does the profession need a new round of Web-search training to include blogs? Is this an opportunity for PRSA and IABC chapters? Maybe. But anyone can do it. Professionals might also turn to media monitoring services that offer blog tracking, including our research partner, BurrellesLuce.

While we’re at it, let’s establish a central repository where PR pros can access horror stories of how ignoring “blog buzz” gets companies in big trouble. If someone has done this, let me know. I haven’t found it.

Why PR pros don’t use blogs to communicate. Once again, lack of resources is the most-cited reason. But anxiety over “message control” also comes through. Blogs do fall into the category textbooks call “uncontrolled media,” but so do the New York Times and CNN. Yet whereas MSM are seen as committed to accuracy and fact-checking, our interviewees don’t see those journalistic values in the blogosphere. It worries them — a lot.

Worries aside, our participants believe blogs will see increasing influence in the next 2-3 years. They also see opportunities for PR practitioners who know how to work with bloggers.

Suggested Action: Increase your knowledge of Web 2.0 and you’ll begin to erase anxiety about blogs. You also discover ways to use social media to your advantage. PR pros can begin by reading the top PR bloggers, many of whom are now established thought leaders in the profession. You’ll find some of them on my blogroll, and others here.

These books will also help: Blogging for Business (Holtz & Demopoulos), Naked Conversations (Scoble & Israel), and The Long Tail (Chris Anderson). Also check out NewPR/Wiki site, the brainchild of Constantin Basturea.

Many see blogs as just another “channel.” When asked how they see blogs affecting PR practice in the next 2-3 years, most respondents saw good things coming from social media. But their optimism about blogs seems to grow from a one-way communication perspective that I find troubling.

We heard far more references to “pitching” bloggers and “reaching” niche audiences than we heard references to “engagement” or “conversation,” though we did hear that, too. Blogs were viewed more as a channel to “get the message out” versus one that might pull valuable messages in. This passage from our paper sums it up:

So PR professionals, at least in their role as publicists, seem to view blogs as vessels of opportunity. Not only do blogs present many new avenues for pitching stories, they also offer the publicist a chance to focus those stories on the niche audiences that so many bloggers cater to.

Those who mentioned blogs as a publicity vehicle significantly outnumber, by about 2 to 1, those who mention blogs in the context of discussion, feedback or dialogue. Most seem to view the new social medium not as a sea change in communication but as another messaging tool. This view of blogs, more as a one-way communication vehicle than an interactive one, may be an anomaly of the survey sample. Since BurrellesLuce clients tend to be practitioners charged with generating and tracking publicity, that mindset may carry over to blogs.

Suggested action: Not sure I have a suggestion. In fact, I hope I’m wrong in my interpretation of the data. If a majority of PR professionals see blogs as primarily a way to get “ink,” we’re in for some difficult times. While bloggers can be pitched story ideas, they’re far more amenable to the symmetrical model of PR.

Using blogs to influence branding and MSM. Our initial survey showed that those who actually use blogs in their communication strategy use them primarily to “support branding” and to “pique interest of mainstream media.” Again, we see here a view of social media more focused on image-building than relationship-building, but perhaps I’m reading too much into the data.

Suggested action. It’s time to get your “experts” blogging about topics of interest to both MSM and the “influentials” in your niche areas (including other bloggers). Our experts also need to monitor other influential bloggers and post thoughtful comments to those site. We can help them do this, and we can help them build readership, too.

Employee blogging isn’t on the radar screen. Our respondents are either unaware of employee blogging activities or indifferent to them. Fact is, less than 20% in the original survey answered the questions related to employee blogs. Those who spoke to the issue during the in-depth phase showed little concern over what employees might be saying about work-related topics.

This, too, is troubling. I’m guessing that most of our respondents haven’t heard Heather Armstrong’s story or the verb “dooced” that was coined in her honor. I also wonder if their HR and legal departments have researched issues related to online activities of their employees.

Suggested action: Meet now with HR and legal counsel to develop a policy that covers employee blogging. Sorry, but I’m not ready to suggest you encourage blogging by employees. I see too many negative outcomes from employee blogs, despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary. Were I still in the business, I’d be letting others blaze that trail, at least until I see some research to support the benefits of employee blogs.

Final thoughts

When Toronto blogger Ed Lee discussed my first post about this study, he sounded the alarm, as did others who linked to the post.

While the business case for companies starting their own blogs is yet to be “conclusively” proved by Forrester, there should be enough cautionary tales out there (Dell; Kryptonite) to persuade PRs that they should at least be monitoring what people are saying about their clients.

If Ed’s references to Dell and Kryptonite don’t resonate with you, it’s time to research the damage “blog neglect” can inflict. And if you think Forrester is a really cool Subaru, it’s time you started reading folks like Ed.

Sorry for the preachy tone. A year ago I didn’t know much about blogging, either. But I knew that blogs were changing the landscape of communication, and I knew we’d soon be up to our keisters in social media, like it or not.

As I said at the top, we can’t generalize based on this initial study. But we certainly can worry. I know I do.

I worry that way too many PR practitioners are ignoring a medium that has the potential to bite them in the backside. I also worry that they’re ignoring a medium that could take the practice to a higher level. At least if we do it right.

2 Responses to BurrellesLuce/Kent State Blog Study, Part Two — Some insights from the in-depth interviews

  1. Greetings from Finland, the country of silent people and highest mobile short messaging per capita…😉

    The effect and influence of blogs are a very hot topic in Finland at the moment. The fact that we a parliamentary elections coming up next month and over 2,000 wannabe politicians trying to do their best to get elected, makes it even more interesting.

    I’m seeing a clear division among the PR practitioners. The ones that know how to take the best out social networks and the ones who are about to retire soon.

    Even though the corporate blogging is not very popular right now, I can clearly see many cases where people are using traditional PR methodologies with trial-and-error and fail miserably. After the failure they claim blogs are not important for successful PR and almost deny the existing discussion in the blogosphere.

    During my working life I have always had a strong preference for PR in the marketing mix, and these new “worlds” are making me even happier about the situation.

  2. […] Why don’t more of these brilliant PR researchers/educators get into blogging? They could use blogs to present executive summaries of their research. They could use blogs to discuss what the research means–maybe even speculating a bit on its meaning – like I did here. […]

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