Online PR – join in or be left behind

Helen Coen is currently online community manager for the RSPCA, the UK’s leading animal welfare charity. Previously she has been a senior RSPCA press officer and award-winning journalist. She is also Dave’s sister.

I admit it: I wasn’t always that interested in the internet and social media.

In all honesty I was a tad old-school – I’d started out as a newspaper journalist before the internet really took off, and before social media became mainstream.

I just didn’t quite get it.

As far as I was concerned print and broadcast media were very important and social networks and blogs were something ‘other’ and a bit of a mystery.

Luckily I had a hunch that I needed to get with the times (and keep up with my brother!) and learned through courses, conferences and trial and error.

As my knowledge and experience increased I realised that online is where people are now and how wonderful – and important – online and the communities that form there really are.

It was natural to feel that communicating online – and directly with the public rather than via journalists – was a risky business. After all, I was responsible for protecting the RSPCA’s reputation.

It’s a common fear that by having an online presence you’re making it easier for the general public to slate you whether you deserve it or not.

To some extent this is true. But people will say negative things about you online whether you’re there or not.

At least if you’re easily contactable and listening to the conversation you have a chance of putting things right or setting the record straight.

There’s no getting away from it, entering the digital world does involve risk and not a small amount of time and money. But there is no doubt in my mind that not getting involved is a huge opportunity missed – and frankly not an option.

I’ve found that communicating online is an essential way of building relationships direct with key influencers – whether it’s through working with bloggers and forums or building your own online community.

The most rewarding and worthwhile element of my online work so far has been talking with bloggers.

I’ve been blown away by how hard bloggers work – mostly in their ‘spare’ time – to make sure their content is genuine, engaging and well written, and also by their brilliant help spreading the word to the right people.

A handful of bloggers I’ve contacted have said that it’s not a cause they can support or agree with, or they already support their quota of charities.

But (approached in the right way) most are happy to do what they can to help, have a vital part to play and are a pleasure to work with.

Okay, not all bloggers have a huge readership, but small, carefully chosen blogs have massive influence on the people that matter – and don’t forget that newspaper articles (and content on news sites) are here today, gone tomorrow – blog posts stick around for years.

Twitter: @HelenRSPCA


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David B. Grinberg

Nice post, Dave. Regarding some bloggers and online media that may not be as influential today compared to others, I would say this: remember to “pay it forward”! Journalism, especially today, is extremely transient — whether traditional or new media. Thus, a small-time blogger today may end up blogging or reporting for a major news organization tomorrow. A less well know, albeit specialized, new org like BNA, may get bought out for $100 million by Bloomberg (News) with a massive audience and global influence. Moreover, the small-time reporters/bloggers will remember those who helped them along the way before they got the big break — as well as the arrogant PR types who wouldn’t take their calls or respond to their e-mails. Just some food-for-thought.