Online PR: sceptics in the house

I’m still sceptical about the value of PR online. If one was to read all the material about how PR must use the Web these days, you’d be forgiven for thinking “what am I missing?”. Well, I must be missing something.

Blogs, podcasts, social networking, twittering and RSS feeds. Cripes, that’s too much for one traditional PR flack to handle. I dived in a couple of months ago, only to be confronted by a lot of opinion (online and in print) but no hard facts about success.

Apart from screens of text, I’ve read three books on the subject: Public Relations Online (Tom Kelleher), Beyond Buzz (Lois Kelly) and The New Rules of Marketing and PR (David Meerman Scott). They’re all fine works in their own right, but don’t really tell me anything about some new secret to PR online. They generally say its about engagement, the personal touch and reaching specific groups. However, I’ve always practised that anyway.

Yes, web sites are important (particularly online “newsrooms”), as is the monitoring of newsgroups. But Social Media Releases? Facebook? I’ve spent some time on YouTube, MySpace and Facebook. It’s time-consuming and for very little stimulation (if you call looking at women with their tounges hanging out stimulating). For the most part it’s people gossiping and posting material that, for the most part, wouldn’t make it to any respected/authoritative site, let alone mainstream media. As for SMRs, as far as I’m aware, the local newsrooms in Australia don’t know what the term is.

Steve Outing (7 June 2007) writing for the respected, cites the case of American PR executive Steve Reubel, who gave up traditional media for a week to see if he’d be well informed by reading weblogs. Reubel discovered he missed out on many major news items.

At the end of the day you still have to realise that despite all the hype, only one person in four on earth is online. Narrow that down to your ethnic audience and the numbers aren’t all that impressive. Outing summarised it for me: “Blogs remain in their infancy, despite the wave of press they’ve received in the last year.”

Outing S. (2007). The blog-only news diet: an experiment in mainstream-media deprivation. (viewed 20 September 2007).


10 thoughts on “Online PR: sceptics in the house”

  1. Hey Greg,

    Yes, there is a lot of conflicting “how to” stuff in the varios books including mine (thanks for reading it). What it comes down to issimple, if your potential customers (or for agencies, your client’s potential customers) are looking for answers to their problems online, then you should be online too so that your company is visible.

    This post hit my Google alerts twice because you used my name and the title of my book. Therefore I came here to see what you said. The same thing is true about companies and their products. If they are mentioned online, then they should know what’s being said, and if appropriate jump into the discussions. Or if they understand the online world, they can begin to lead discussions by starting their own blog.

    Just curious — why do YOU blog anyway. Isn’t this blog online PR?


    David Meerman Scott

  2. Thanks, David. Just goes to show how fast things move in cyberspace. I only set up this blog yesterday and alrady a reaction, from the author of The New Rules of Marketing and PR, no less. Let this be a lesson to students (and me). However, I’ll wait to see just how this things builds. Meantime, you can read my more Australian take on PR (and politics) at

  3. Hi Greg,
    You’re right to be skeptical as there’s way too much hype around. What is different is that listening and bringing ideas into and organization rather than just pushing them out is valuable and few people in a company are in charge of this. Also people want more ideas and advice from companies, not all the promotional stuff. That’s always been true, but seems to be especially important today to get people to trust an organization.

    Lois of Beyond Buzz

  4. This is great. Another two well known (?) bloggers replying to my comments. Many thanks. It’s appreciated … and goes some way to disproving my theory (that blogging is a waste of time). It certainly is broadening my horizons. To Jenn: sorry I didn’t have the setting on automatic subscribe. I’ve only been at it a week. It will/has been (?) changed. And to Gary ( that’s a good resource you’ve got. I’ll be checking back.

  5. All three authors I commented on have written. Thanks. Tom’s post was probably because he read comments on Gary’s blog. Now, this has turned out really well, and I have proved a point to my students that blogging DOES work, albeit in this case on a small scale. But the potential seems to be better than a standard site. (More research needed). Blog on.

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