PRSA Boston's March 30th program entitled "Navigating the Wide World of Blogs" was held this evening at Weber Shandwick in Cambridge, MA. As the image shows, the meeting was well attended. The panel moderated by Mary Helen Gillespie, president of Gillespie Interactive included Dan Kennedy of the Boston Phoenix, Mike Spataro, EVP for Interactive Services of Weber Shandwick (a non-blogger who advises on blogging -- hmmm), Adam Gaffin of Boston Online and NetworkWorld.com and Sam Whitmore of Sam Whitmore's Media Survey. The panel was charged with addressing:
- What are blogs?
- Who are key bloggers?
- How to use blogs for media relations?
- How to make blogs work?
- How some companies have misread the significance of blogs?
The discourse was disappointing. Perhaps, I've already heard too many blatherings about what is "on" or "off" the record, read too many apologists for MSM slam bloggers for their lack of objectivity and issue concerns over blogger credibility and lack of journalistic professionalism. Perhaps, I've been living on a different planet for the past few years -- one where journalists at very credible papers (NYT) have written fake or plagiarized stories, where Sinclair Media aired "biased" information and the dismal list could go on and on. If the same logic is applied that all individuals using the same expressive media are alike, then MSM is just as biased and riddled with credibility problems as blogging. All bloggers are alike, aren't they? Alas! Way too much time and attention is spent looking in at the blogosphere, categorizing and stereotyping.
Missing in the discussion was what is to me the most interesting aspect of blogging -- the ability to connect with publics and listen to the sweet music of the customer's voice. Blogs offer businesses the ability to join in a conversation with their customers.
Every time I hear words like "control" and "influence" used in connection with blogging and bloggers, I am acutely aware of how frightening "customers" must be to many businesses. An image comes to mind of a small child, hands clapped over his ears, screaming at the top of his lungs --"I don't care what you say. I can't hear you." PR professionals (oh! it's that word again - profess...) should help these frightened individuals take their hands off their ears and listen. Then, based on what they hear from their customers design their communications strategies accordingly.
Sure bloggers will and do create havoc for companies that provide lousy products, poorly articulated messages and unacceptable service. However, in my own reading and blog writing, more bouquets of roses are thrown than brickbats.
Also, somewhat disappointed that there was no discussion of some of the really cool tools emerging for following blogs such as BlogPulse that monitors millions of blogs, mining out trends more rapidly than futurists could ever have imagined possible back in the old days of trend spotting when clipping and snipping news items was the norm.
What was billed at $40 a head as "dinner, networking and program" was a snack, some lively networking and the program. Mind you, the tea-sandwiches were delicious, but they were certainly not dinner. Left the meeting both mentally and physically hungry.