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Does the Web Demand New PR Technologies?

Two different inputs recently have gotten me thinking about public relations and the web, and just how far behind the technology curve many PR departments may be.

The first input was a comment I got on one of my posts that I wrote while on vacation last month.  In this post I mentioned that I would be heading for Disney World for our traditional family reunion, but that growing crowds on Thanksgiving week would probably force us to try a different week next time.  I got a comment from someone who sounded like a Disney employee, recommending a better week.  Now, it turns out that it was not a Disney employee, just a helpful reader (one of my loyal 34 or so).  But it got me to thinking.  Are corporate PR departments keeping up with the web?  If Disney was not doing stuff like this, why aren't they?

The second input was this post in Reason's Hit and Run blog.  They point out TIVO efforts to manage the use of the TIVO copyright to ensure that they do not lose the rights to the name.  (Though the article mentions Xerox and Kleenex, my understanding is that Formica actually came the closest to losing its copyright on that name due to overuse as a generic term for, uh, whatever Formica is).  How can companies possibly keep up with their trademark usage on the web?

Back when I worked for a large corporation, we had PR people, either in or out of house, who would provide us with weekly news summaries of where the corporation was in the press.  This was particularly helpful to those of us in marketing, who wanted to make sure we saw all the reviews of our product (so we could use the good ones and refute the bad ones).

In the world of the Internet, this approach seems hopelessly dated.  In the "old days" I used to walk to school 20 miles each day in the snow, up hill both ways  (sorry, always feel like I am channeling my dad when I say "in the old days") the media might have 10  or 15 mentions of our product every two weeks.  Now, on the web, there might be 10 or 15 an hour. Every day employees may be talking about the company in a chat room, customers may be commenting on the company in some place like epinions.com or in Amazon reviews, blogs may be posting on the company, and authorized or unauthorized vendors may have set up shop to sell the company's products online.

How does  a company keep up with all this?  If I was a large company, I would be actively searching the web for key words associated with my company and competitors, looking for new posts or entries or reviews or even whole websites.   Employees spilling secrets in a chat room?  Need to tell legal.  New web site selling our product? Send it to marketing to make sure they are authorized and are using our trademarks and product descriptions correctly.  Blogs posting on us?  We might want to add our own comment to the post.

What we need is the modern technology version of the clipping service.  The technology would probably be pretty straight forward - a company wouldn't even have to build it's own search engine - it could just take a full snapshot of the Google results one day and compare those results to a search the next week, and look for changes.

Or, better yet, why doesn't Google provide this service to corporate accounts itself?  After all, they do need something to justify their sky-high PE ratio, maybe this would help.  Wouldn't Exxon pay $50,000 a year for this service?  Heck I pay D&B several hundred dollars a year for a credit watch service on my company's credit rating, I would certainly pay some hundreds a year for a PR watch of my small business and my competitors.

UPDATE:

One company that seems to be doing something ike this is BuzzMetrics.  Link courtesy of RatherBiased.com

Posted on December 18, 2004 at 10:23 PM | Permalink

Comments

A few years ago, I ran across a venture-funded startup that was focusing on just this niche: providing information to companies about what is being said about them on the web. Can't remember their name. Probably would be fairly easy for Google to implement a feature doing this.

I think PR is a very important function and, conducted properly, can be as effective--sometimes more effective--as advertising. Unfortunately, there are too many PR people who don't know how to write, and many press releases are truly awful...

Posted by: David Foster | Dec 20, 2004 7:30:32 AM

What we need is the modern technology version of the clipping service. The technology would probably be pretty straight forward - a company wouldn't even have to build it's own search engine - it could just take a full snapshot of the Google results one day and compare those results to a search the next week, and look for changes. Or, better yet, why doesn't Google provide this service to corporate accounts itself?

Good news! Not only does Google already do this, but it's FREE. They call it "Google Alerts", and the website is http://the-raw-prawn.blogspot.com/. It performs your search query on a regular basis, and notifies you by email when new items are added. Google News has a similar service for news articles. I use it to keep track of the company I work for, our competitors, my own name, and my blog .

Posted by: Adam | Dec 20, 2004 10:44:00 AM

Hello, and thanks for the mention of BuzzMetrics. Regarding the comments, there are a huge variety of clipping services that notify you when specific keywords show up on the web. The problem for large brands/corporations is that this results in a huge stream of "clips" with no context as to what it means or what the company should do about it. That is why BuzzMetrics exists - to help our clients understand the ramifications of the word of mouth that consumers generate.

If you are interested in this topic, WOMMA.org is a great resource! Thanks again.

Posted by: jonathan carson | Jan 5, 2005 7:53:38 PM

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