OPINION

Will PR 2.0 Become A Reality In India In 2007?

January 06, 2007
Palin Ningthoujam

Corporate blogging and PR 2.0 is a much discussed topic elsewhere. However in India, will we get to see PR professionals offering consultancy on such topics to their clients this year - in reality, rather than only a mention on the credentials? The Economic Times says in 2007 'public relations will enjoy another great year thanks to the growing number of media channels, a continuing emphasis on reputation, and a more pressing need to manage brands and crises across blogs and other online media.' To make things more curious, there was a recent announcement about The Flea and immediate future tying up for online PR and Web2.0 services in UK and India.

Indian corporates are increasingly blogging
According to an article in Rediff.com, it is estimated globally that forty Fortune 500 companies publish corporate blogs, allowing CEOs and employees to bypass the public relations department, journalists and industry analysts and speak directly to the public. Amazon, Cisco and Oracle were early adopters with AMD, Dell, Kodak, GE, Intel, Microsoft, Sun, Yahoo and Xerox following suit.

In India, we all know about Hindustan Lever and its Sunsilk Gang of Girls. Apart from it, we have Infosys, Tata, and Rajesh Jain, among others. Indian subsidiaries of JWT, Frito-Lay, Motorola and a few others are planning blogs that talk about career options and employee experiences in the organisations (according to a September 2006 article of The Economic Times).

Other sectors in India where blogging seemed to have found good audience are travel and tourism, and the stock markets. I read a news article in The Economic Times recently about how travelers are sharing tips and reading experiences of other travelers before traveling to a particular region. Similarly, there are many blogs out there giving stock market and other investment tips, with good number of readers. Blogging is a ready opportunity available to companies in these sectors.

Why are companies adopting these new tools?
Today the media is not only about a dozen media houses generating news contents and reviews. Information, news, reviews, and discussions are being generated and shared online increasingly by consumers (in what is emerging as a new form of media called social media). So if we are talking about thousands of consumers here, what they are sharing matters a lot to companies selling products or providing services to them. So companies need to a) keep a tab on what the consumers are saying about their products and services so that they can take further action based on this feedback, and b) share their thoughts and messages to the consumers and be in touch with them directly as one of them.

Why do they need to be in touch with consumers directly this way? Rohit Bhargava in his post 'Top 7 marketing trends for 2007' reasons that for years, large organisations have focused much of their marketing and communications on becoming faceless - yet the danger of facelessness is now becoming better understood. In short, companies cannot connect with customers in a meaningful and emotional way without having a personality. As more organisations realise this fact, we will continue to see more 'corporate bloggers' and more touch points for customers to interact with the true personality of a brand. Look for social media to play a bigger part in the overall marketing strategy as a result.

Is the Indian PR industry ready?
How many agencies in India are geared up to answer questions on PR 2.0, Web 2.0 and provide consultancy to clients if they ever come up with such a question? Recently, I sent a few questions to the Asia-Pacific Corp.Comm lady of a top IT company on a blogging survey they did in Asia. She forwarded the questions to their Indian PR agency, marking me a copy of her mail. I didn't hear from the agency after that, nor did I follow up. No offense, but I couldn't have expected much either.

However impractical it sounds, I think it's time now for Indian PR professionals to gear up fast in providing PR 2.0 services. We are servicing numerous MNCs who are used to getting this service in other parts of the world and soon they are going to demand our knowledge in the Indian blogosphere and ask similar services too. It's true that unlike the west, blogs here do not enjoy more readers than the morning papers; and they are perceived by many people, falsely or otherwise, as personal rantings of some youths. Our clients will tomorrow still prefer a newspaper or a TV coverage than on a blog. Coverage in the traditional media will continue to be the reason why companies will continue to hire PR agencies for many years in India.

That said, if we are looking to differentiate ourselves, provide a value-added service to our clients, or seeking to master every new communication and news medium as PR professionals; it's high time we gear up. If we can't, then one possible trend I can expect is to hire professional bloggers as consultants and take them during client meetings. This is not entirely impossible as well.

Role of PR
Alright, enough talk. But what exactly do we do ? To me, it is making our clients understand about PR 2.0 and the importance of blogging. Then help them establish their blogs. And when the blogs are up and running, what then? I posted the question to Richard Edelman in a recent FT.com online blog Q&A. He replied - We should be looking at blog research tools such as Technorati which follow the blogosphere. We should suggest new topics for posts. We can also recommend new bloggers such as director of R&D or others as credible speakers for the company. So, well?

Tread carefully
The social media is different from the traditional media. There are few editorial policies, moderators, and self censoring. It can be ruthless at times. Therefore, our approach to dealing with it has to be different. A blogger can well write about how many times you called and irritated him in a day.

We need to understand how the social media works by being inside it. We cannot be outside viewers and seek to use it to our advantage. Kami Huyse talks about five social media trends that will impact PR in 2007. These trends include the rise of user-generated videos like Youtube, virtual reality like SecondLife (SL), misuse and abuse of social media channels, increasing rejection of PR folks by several social media communities, and the rise of a real discussion about the future of the press release e.g. social media press release, etc.

I found the fourth trend most interesting and dangerous. Kami referred about how a section of the residents in Second Life voted to ban PR folks in Dreamland, which represents 10 percent of the landmass in Second Life. The residents were apparently incensed by the recent spate of 'false first claims' by PR people of things many SL residents have done long before them like '1st radio station in SL', '1st fashion brand', '1st tabloid'. She predicted more bad PR for public relations in 2007. I tend to agree with her. Talking to the social media, we cannot continue with our 'biggest' and 'for the first time' adjectives that we so profoundly and freely use in our press releases. By the way, it sometimes works with the traditional media also. There used to be always some journalist who would point out that 'it was not'.

Then the biggest debate is whether PR professionals should interfere at all in corporate blogging. Well, let's keep ourselves open.

Palin is a marketing communications consultant and a social media enthusiast based out of New Delhi, India. He founded the the India PR Blog that is today the most read PR and marketing blog in India. He blogs on new media on his personal blog, Advocable. He has been working for with more than 7 years of experience in leading PR agencies in India and have managed clients across verticals including IT, telecom, automobiles, tyres, FMCG, lifestyle, retail, textiles, banking & finance, hospitality, book publishers, real-estate, market research firms, think tanks, NGOs, healthcare, education, ceramic tiles, and government bodies. He has contributed to a number of online sites like Mashable, New Communications Review, Desicritics, and eZineArticles. You can contact Palin at Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Mashable, or at palinn at gmail.com
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#1
Brian Solis
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February 9, 2007
10:51 AM

Great piece, very thoughtful. Take a look at the PR2.0, www.briansolis.com, blog I write from San Francisco. It is the epicenter of the shift from traditional PR to something much bigger and more transparent.

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