Philip Young and Swaran Sandhu
For my presentation to the Stuttgart PR and Social Software Symposium I tried to interpret the results of EuroBlog 2006 in relation to the claims made for weblogs and social software by 'evangelists' such as Naked Conversationalists Scoble and Israel. I also highlighted two key findings which suggest European PR practitioners are either not aware of or have so far rejected two of the features that evangelists claim will have the most impact on PR practice.
Only 7.1 pc saw communicating directly with stakeholders (bypassing journalists) as most important, with a further 14.5 saying very important; 23.3pc undecided and 55.2 said not very important or least important.
And one in three (32pc) rated the ability to track conversations about their own products and services as the least important reason for engaging with the blogosphere
Here are some of my notes - they are best read alongside Swaran Sandhu's presentation.
Weblogs, Podcasts and Communication Management:
Conclusions from the EuroBlog2006 survey
Philip Young, University of Sunderland, Great Britain
In Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers, Robert Scoble and Shel Israel claim to present “compelling evidence that a communications revolution is underway, moving from a controlled one-way model into a decentralised interactive one.”
The majority of respondents to Euroblog 2006, the first pan-European survey to investigate the use of weblogs in public relations and communication management, appeared to be unconvinced by this argument. There was a sharp split between converts and sceptics, with one in three practitioners regularly writing or contributing to weblogs but a quarter not engaging with the new medium.
EuroBlog suggests the penetration of weblogs into corporate communications culture by November 2005 was at best fragmented and incomplete. Although most respondents were aware of weblogs, this awareness was at a low level. The picture of a ‘two-speed Europe’, with a clear divide between those who are embracing the new opportunities and those who remain to be convinced.
- Although 31 percent said they regularly write or contribute to weblogs, 26 percent said they never do.
- Only 4 percent said they had not yet heard of weblogs, so one-in-four respondents were making a conscious choice not to use them.
- The survey found that 42 percent of respondents who did not already maintain blogs said they intended to do so within the next 12 months. Nevertheless, a significant 32 percent did not expect to introduce blogs.
- Of those with no plans to introduce weblogs, one third said this is because the benefits are unclear and a further 22 percent said they did not have the personnel.
The most important factors limiting the use of weblogs appear to be the inability to control the communication content, integrating blogs into communication strategy and creating content.
Although 96.1percent of respondents had heard of weblogs, a further 27.8percent had no real engagement, with only 31.2pc regarding themselves as frequent users. As this was an online survey of communications professionals it is likely to overstate rather understate the situation.
Use of weblogs
Those respondents who do maintain weblogs reported a wide range of uses, from personal, ‘in home communication’ to brand building, internal comms and community radio.
What are the greatest opportunities weblogs offer you?
• An additional means of communications, quick and easy for visitors to read, write and pop in and out of at their (leisure)
• Brand-building, creating trust and a platform for direct stakeholder management
• Enhancing the service we offer to clients
• Generating business ideas from employees
• Mixing hard issues with soft
• The ability to get at feeling on how people, from other groups and ages, think and speak
• Observe developments in sociology and consequences for communications
"Blogging lets you listen to what people are saying about your product, company or category and gives them the opportunity to respond. Blogging lets you find and join the conversation (Scoble 2006:44)."
Perhaps surprisingly Euroblog found that almost one in three (32pc) rated this potential ability to track conversations about their own products and services as the least important reason.
Communicating directly with stakeholders
Many commentators suggests that large corporates, governments and not-for-profit organisations are using blogging to by-pass the media … and speak directly to their audiences.
Blogging provides the first adequate toolset for enabling executives and business people to get their messages out directly to their audiences – and hear back from them, something that does not happen through the media or other relay systems (Scoble, 2006:48)
Here weblogs are seen as an opportunity for sidestepping traditional media gatekeepers; if an organisation (or in some constructs, many, many people within an organisation) can interact with publics it has the advantage that messages go out unmediated, without journalistic distortion, addition or subtraction, that has led the more radical commentators to proclaim that “PR is dead.”
But only 7.1 pc of those responding saw "Communicating directly with stakeholders (bypassing journalists)" as most important, with a further 14.5 saying very important; 23.3pc were undecided and 55.2 said not very important or least important.
Euroblog suggests that in November 2005 one of the fundamental reasons for embracing the new media as portrayed by the evangelists had yet to penetrate the mainstream
Some see the possibility for interaction with customers as a key advantage of weblogs; this is sometimes characterised as providing a human face for organisations, and is seen as both a way of tracking customer opinion and also in some cases a way of turning an anonymous detractor into an engaged customer.
In a highly significant finding, of the 524 EuroBlog respondents who replied to this question more than three-quarters either rejected or were unaware of the one of the features of weblogging that is seen as central to the New PR.
Why are you not planning to use weblogs? Multiple answer possible
The majority of responses could grouped as
• lack of interest/ relevance
• lack of knowledge
• inappropriate to role
• inappropriate to audience
• wouldn’t justify time
• client apathy
• management apathy/ hostility
One respondent commented: “There is a question of relevance and return in terms of investment of time and resources. The market in terms of relevant readership is unclear…"
Factors LIMITING the use
Inability to control content - 44.4pc (The response of evangelists would be that the conversation will be taking place anyway).
- 40.6pc – integrating blogs into comms strategy
- 39.9pc – creating content
- 37pc - reacting to feedback
All are control arguments – and can be seen as a reluctance of organisations to adapt to new social software environment, a position built from internal demands rather than responding to and anticipating socio-technological change
- Factors for not implementing
31.3pc unclear of benefits,
22pc no personnel capacity (suggests priorities elsewhere)
13.8pc no budget (presumably time)
• “Deeply concerned over the corporate governance issues raised by blogs written in the name of senior execs or others”
• “Making sure others talk about you”
• “Too risky being informal”
• “Management’s perception that it is not good for productivity”
• "The character of weblogs is far too manipulative and therefore too risky to really rely on"
Euroblog suggests that PR practitioners have begun to recognise the potential of the new social softwares for enhanced monologues but have been reluctant to to recognise and embrace the opportunities for dialogue with customers, potential customers and detractors for reasons based on control of messages
Most importantly, many have not yet recognised the significance of monitoring the conversations and discourses that surround them.
So Euroblog does not (in Scoble and Israel’s words) present “compelling evidence that a communications revolution is underway, moving from a controlled one-way model into a decentralised interactive one(2006:27).”
But I believe a similar survey in November 2006 will reveal a significant increase in the use of weblogs and this shift will be come about as practitioners begin to understand more about the the potential advantages of social software rather than fearing the (very real) challenges they present.