Read All About It

By Hannah Wallace July 31, 2007

We’ve been talking a lot about new media in our office. As Ilene Denton, Biz941’s managing editor, observed, “We’ve reached the tipping point in digital communication,” a place where enough consumers and businesses are heading to the Internet to get information before they try any other means of contact, and it’s causing an entire shift in the way everyone is doing business.

Smart businesses (yes, Biz941 and our flagship publication Sarasota Magazine, included) are using their Web sites to provide up-to-the-minute content, video, audio, photography and, more recently, social networking, a form of direct interaction and feedback with their consumers.

Josh Hallett, a Winter Haven-based consultant whose company, Hyku, LLC, specializes in blogs and social media, created a stir when he talked recently to the local chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association about how blogging is affecting business. Last summer, for example, journalist Jeff Jarvis blogged about his problems with the lack of customer support for his Dell computer. Hundreds of people responded to concur, and shortly after, Dell experienced its first negative quarter. “People were tired of being treated like a number,” Hallett says. “They want open and honest conversations.” Bloggers can have enormous reach and they can do tremendous damage.

So what should a company be doing today? Here are Hallett’s rules:

1. Understand what’s going on. There’s a conversation happening about your business or industry online.

2. Listen. You can choose to blog or not, but you need to listen to the conversation. If you’re a restaurant owner, it’s not just the food critic whom you have to impress anymore. It’s everyone who walks through your door. Hallett gave an example about golfing blogger Tim McDonald’s take on Miami International Airport’s overcrowded conditions. Airport officials might be inclined to dismiss the criticism, but Hallett says that would be a huge mistake. Blogs often target highly motivated niche markets, and McDonald’s opinion could be circulated to a group MIA would hate to lose. The lesson? MIA officials should track what’s being said about them and use the blogosphere to respond and correct information.

3. Blog. Blogging humanizes your company, he says. People shop and eat where they’ve made a connection, even an online one. But beware: Anything that sounds like PR will be discarded immediately. It’s best to use real people in your company, the people who directly deal with customers. “You can’t fake it online,” he says. “If your whole goal is just send a press release you’ll get nothing. Find out what customers want and give it to them. They’ll think, ‘I can’t believe that company wants to talk to me.”


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