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Web 2.0 Services in the PR industry

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 09/28/2005

It is not intuitive, but the ability to program Web 2.0 services is something to look for in tomorrow’s converging & emerging new breed of PR agency. For those not familiar, Web 2.0 is about a new ecosystem of glue-together programming components. In the same way Web pages proliferated and became massively popular because they were easy to produce and easy to visit, so too shall actual programs (not just Web-brochures) be able to run each other and be assembled into best-of-breed super-programs. And anyone who is most expert in their problem domain (tiny slice of the world) can throw their own Web Service into the mix and allow it to be integrated into the world’s new eco-system of programs. It is not dependent on any particular programming platform. Companies such as Amazon.com are leading the way by publishing APIs that any programmer can tie into.

So, what does this have to do with the PR industry? Much of the PR world has adopted some of the more surface and easy-to-understand changes that the Internet revolution has wrought—blogging, for example. Blogging (and influencing bloggers) is considered highly connected to the mission of PR—influence the influencers upstream, and your message trickles downstream, being carried word-of-mouth as bloggers regurgitate and re-link each others opinions. This in turn delivers effective marketing at a lower cost than an ad campaign, and infuses the message into more credible locations: into the editorial vs. the ad, or into the TV program vs. the commercial. In short, PR delivers more value for the marketing dollar, but without the guarantees of column inches, airtime or impressions that comes with paid advertising.

So PR and online is a natural fit, because so much on the Internet is free. You can sign up for a Blogger account free and start posting. You can comment on others’ blogs. You can jump into a message board, repeat your client’s message and drop links. And this first generation labor-intensive form of online PR is just what many firms are doing. PR firms are catching onto the simple facts that you should work the most frequently searched-on terms of the subject-matter into the headline of a press release, so it becomes the title tag, and sometimes the URL and inbound link. While the blogging and the press release optimizing techniques are all valid, it’s really the Web 2.0 programming is the second and third generation of online PR, and that makes all the difference. Why?

For two very good reasons.

1. It’s all about syndication. News no longer dribbles out through a few outlets. It gushes out through multiple, fragmented channels. And the only way to manage it, either from a monitoring perspective or from a making news perspective, is to create automated systems that scour, aggregate and keyword match. There’s no way you can keep up with every significant piece of news in a segment if you’re not pulling down and analyzing the data feeds. And better-still, you should be archiving the data feeds for later examination. While Google alerts were nice for the first few years, they just don’t cut it anymore. RSS feeds, Atom and tomorrow’s news syndication systems are the new datastream. So why not just use systems like BlogPulse, Technorati or Google’s new blog search? Because there will always be a new data feed. Real competitive difference will be in the PR firm’s ability to tie into and automate all the many data feeds, and apply their agency intelligence. This means custom Web 2.0 programming.

2. It’s all about optimization. What does search engine optimization have to do with Web 2.0 programming, much less the PR industry? Everything! Yet, I can hardly understand why so few people see the connection. This is a testament to how far ahead Connors Communications is to most PR agencies: we can talk about separation of principles in programming (and content management), and discuss how application of the agency’s optimization intelligence takes place in the re-combining, publishing and pinging phases. Huh? Let’s put it this way. No matter where the information is held, a leading edge PR firm can subscribe to it as a data source (through a Web Service, of course), and recombine the data into webpages, much like remixing music, but applying Google’s relevancy formula du jour at this phase. If Google subtly changes what criteria it considers important, the PR agency can spin out an entirely new website, subtly tweaked for the new algorithm. This can exist independently of the existing website, or completely replace it as an alternative way of outputting from the CMS.

All this Web 2.0 programming capability is on top of the capabilities already present in the PR industry: established human relationships in the media that you can call-upon to help get your message out. Imagine the one-two knockout combo of Web 2.0 programming savvy, and the type of strategic counsel that helped establish such clients as Amazon.com and Priceline.