Possibilities Of The Blogosphere For The PR Industry In Spanish-Speaking Countries

Only two media in Spanish speaking countries offer RSS: the Spanish newspaper El Mundo and the Argentine Clarín. Although the blogs are becoming more visible in the media and are becoming a research topic, still they are something of small "evangelist groups", who promote its use? but this can change in little time.

To face this great challenge, Spanish-speaking PR professionals have to identify the enormous opportunities that other colleagues, fundamentally those whose native language is English, use for their clients, their businesses and, even for themselves.

Perhaps it would be easier for Anglo-saxons, with a different culture, to accept that in order to enter the blogosphere they must take themselves off the pedestal on which they think leaders should be placed, and be closer to thousands of people in a direct way, without any obstacles.

It is hard for me to believe that a politician, a high-ranking official or an executive in Mexico, Spain, Peru or Argentina, would agree to write a blog. Furthermore, except for some industries (i.e. IT), the use of blogs to maintain direct communication with their audiences continues to be limited to political parties, governments and even successful businesses.

In recent years, there has been a great advance, in which leaders have taken into account the advantages of having a web page and have included it in their communication campaign.

Nevertheless, for some industries of the Spanish-speaking countries, the Internet still is a foreign, difficult and expensive tool, and because of this they disregard its use to communicate with their audiences. The blogosphere offers the exact opposite of this: it is a communication tool close to the people, easy-to-use and with such a reduced price that, with so many resources available on the Internet, it can be practically free of charge.

It is easy to say that blogs could become a "democratizing" element with real possibilities to change the traditional relationship between sources and the media with the public.

Blogs will make possible the "participative journalism", through which it will be possible to connect the problems of real people to other individuals with the same difficulties and worries. The possibilities are endless in societies that are used to the lack of transparency in government activities and large businesses, and even with media that lack credibility.

In fact, what is already happening in a lot of Spanish-speaking countries, as in the Anglo-saxon world, is an explosion of blogs that offer alternative information to the traditional media. Thousands of blogs are appearing to reflect, qualify and denounce, not only the governmental actions or those of political parties, but products, services or even plans that many businesses are carrying out.

Also, it is possible that the blogs can be seen as the real possibility for the small and medium-size businesses to access the Internet, without needing to provide a large quantity of resources or having to depend on IT people that don't necessarily understand the business or communication strategies.

Perhaps here is the heart of the matter. These reasons make me think that there are many possibilities for the public relations industry in the Spanish-speaking countries to explore blogs. It is possible that very soon the blogs in Spanish may reach the same importance that other blogs are gradually but firmly gaining, in countries such as United States, United Kingdom, Canada or Australia.

Right now, I don't believe that really independent blogs -that is to say, those that are not part of important communication groups or that are not written by professional journalists that update their blogs parallelly to their main activity- may be accredited like mainstream media in important events such as political campaigns, as is already happening in the US, and soon in the United Kingdom.

The public relations industry in Spanish-speaking countries should be prepared to obtain the maximum profit of this phenomenon.

How? I will tackle this through some proposed plans of action.

* Identify those blogs that have a good level of hits and organize them in categories: technology, political, media, etc. There are some directories that do this like Bitácoras.net, Blogdir.com, Blogsmexico.com, Blogalia.com, to mention a few. We should be open to see all kinds of blogs, keeping in mind that there will be occasions in which we won't share the authors' points of view, but that is important that we take them into consideration.

Let's take the the case of the videogames web pages. There are occasions in which children with barely 12 years become true opinion leaders, who are capable of destroying the launch of a new game in which thousands or even millions of euros were invested.

* Enter into the blogosphere with the objective of understanding the new medium, its tools, its possibilities and limitations, as well as the best-known authors, although they not be Spanish-speaking.

It may seem obvious, but there are many people that have never heard about RSS, feeds, posts, blogs, syndicated content, links or anything along these lines.
A public relations consultant can't suggest that his or her clients launch a blog without having previously informed the client about what it takes to be successful and, above all, he or she can't afford not to know an answer to an issue that may be presented in the blogosphere.

* Before launching a corporate or institutional blog, one should have a clear strategy of what he or she hopes to be communicate and should understand that the blogosphere has its own "net-etiquette", that is to say, its own codes, that have implications regarding updating, information sources, the form, the tone of the communication? and, of course, the feedback of the public.

We can find that a good idea may produce mediocre results if inadequate tactics are chosen. In this sense, a blog is one more tool among the many available for public relations. And, yes, it offers some unique possibilities that other don't have.

* Make the blog relevant, but take into account that it is a blog. There are people that keep thinking that the blogs are newspapers for teen-agers, in part because it is true. However this is not something bad at all since this shows how flexible blogs are.

Therefore, at the moment of launching a blog, one must find an equilibrium among the characteristics of the blogosphere with the objectives of the organization. One cannot do is to create irrelevant posts or wait too long to update the blog.

If a business does not have the capacity to maintain a continuous communication with its audience, whether for strategic reasons or legal limitations of another type, perhaps a web page is better for its objectives.

* Note that results can't be immediate. It is one of the main challenges to all public relations professionals that should be faced, not only with the blogs, but when using any other tool.

Perhaps in the case of the blogs the challenge is greater because of the novelty of the medium and, in the case of some Latin American countries, by the low penetration of Internet.

* Be "blog evangelists". One must know not only the blogosphere, one must be part of it. This is the only way in which a consultant will be able to offer his or her clients an adequate consultancy. It is not a matter of being a guru with thousands of visits a day, but it is necessary to be comfortable with the blogosphere and knowing who-is-who. The only way to persuade someone is being convinced of that which is preached.

The best business card of a consultant that uses the advantages of a blog for an organization should include, apart from its email, his or her blog addresss.

There will be many of things to do, but this could be a good beginning for the Spanish-speaking PR industry, that has yet to see blogs as a tool with a huge potential.

We must wait to see if the "blog phenomenon", that is taking place in a number of countries, will spread to the rest of the world. The low internet penetration in Latin American countries, an incipient culture of the use of IT and a different way of understanding the social relations, will be the main obstacles that will determine if this phenomenon spreads as it has in the Anglo-Saxon countries, or maybe it will be possible that a different movement arises with local particularities that haven't been exploited yet. We will wait and see? and we better be prepared.

Octavio Isaac Rojas Orduña is Senior Account Executive in Weber Shandwick Ibérica, in Madrid, Spain. An award-winning radio scriptwriter in Latin America and Germany, he joined Weber Shandwick in 1997. He has offered strategy consultation for both multinational companies, such as BBC, McDonald's, Siemens, Unilever, Kodak, LEGO, and Spanish companies, and industry associations.

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