Tuesday, January 8, 2008

'New media shaking up public relations industry'

This is a very interesting article on blogs as direct to consumer communications. Turns out the Philippines is one of five Asia Pacific countries where blogging is a national phenomenon.

Saturday, September 15, 2007By Brian Asmus, Special to The China Post

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Len Apcar, chief editor of the New York Times, once intoned that, "Newspapers, in the traditional sense are dead. PR people have an opportunity to create content that will be delivered to consumers and embraced by the media." The South China Morning Post, in an editorial, chimed in that, "Blogs and sites like Wikipedia have become the thinking man's graffiti."
Tectonic shifts in how news is reported are forcing corporations and their public relations strategists to adapt. Central to this new focus is the role of advocacy, said Andrew Pirie, president Asia-Pacific, Weber Shandwick at an AmCham Marking and Distribution Committee breakfast held yesterday at Shangrila's Far Eastern Plaza Hotel in Taipei.
According to Pirie, 90 percent of consumers regard word of mouth as the best source of ideas and information about products and services. Today, 26 percent of Google search results on the world's 20 largest brands are coming from consumer-generated sources with 45 percent of consumers engaging in some form of advocacy activities and 54 percent saying they have more power to influence a company's success or failure as well as having a greater say in what is sold.
Advocates, pointed out Pirie to the gathering of corporate executives, are knowledgeable, connected and passionate, giving them colossal power to convince others. This spread of information is more than just word-of-mouth awareness; these advocates are making recommendations about everything from brands to issues. This is underlined by the fact that 63 percent of consumers are deciding more quickly to buy products and services, and to support or reject issues, causes and companies because of the influence of advocates.
This has impelled major changes in how public relations is conducted. In the 1980s, said Pirie, the industry was mostly about announcements, presentations and collateral; then moving into opinion, strategy and awareness in the 1990s before attaining new forms of influence in the first decade of this century, namely, engagement, experience and participation.
Corporations are spending great effort on determining how to best engage advocates to share their experiences, (hopefully positive) and get them to participate in the company's effort to get its message heard. Some of the reasons for the new power held by advocates, said Pirie, are the fact that fewer consumers trust established institutions such as government, corporations and traditional media channels. "They have put greater trust," he stressed, "in their peers and nongovernmental organizations."
Digitization of society has also led to networking among consumers with shared interests. "Ordinary citizens," he said, "have a powerful voice." This means that information and ideas can spread faster and farther than ever before.
To underscore just how networked people are these days, Pirie cited a number of figures on global Internet usage. Today, there are 1 billion global users online with 37 percent of these in the Asia-Pacific. In Asia, the top three countries for reading blogs are China, Korea and Malaysia with the top five for running a blog being China, Korea, the Philippines, Japan and Malaysia.
Pirie further observed that, in 2006, China had more than 160 million Internet users, 51 million regular users of bulletin boards and 35 million regular blog users. There are, he continued, as many as 100 companies trying to imitate Myspace with another 200 mimicking Youtube. "Sohu.com.cn, Mop.com, Wangyou.com and Baidu.com," he noted, "are all popular social networking sites with millions of Chinese users every day."
Anyone doubting the strength of these consumer sites can examine the spate of recent incidences in China, where well-known foreign companies have been forced to react to negative campaigns involving their corporations and products.
Blog -- and other advocacy -- activity sees consumers taking the lead in generating media. Internet search ability means that consumers can instantly connect with anyone who has an opinion. Distrust of corporate marketing means that consumers are demanding open, honest interaction and dialogue. "Brands must be seen to be human, honest and willing to engage directly with audiences," Pirie said.
The marketing model must, therefore, change. Rather than filtering news through the media, companies must now involve consumers in the journalistic process to fuel electronic word-of-mouth evangelism. Rather than control the dialogue, concluded Pirie, corporations and their public relations strategies must now settle for merely setting the terms of the debate, while enlisting multiple voices and utilizing an integrated approach.

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