Philip Young has been doing some thinking about what a blog actually is for a public relations practitioner. You can read his thoughts and challenges here (and here).
In a private email conversation he argues against the notion that blogs should be treated as publications, and therefore held up to the same level of scrutiny as any other publication.
Philip’s main argument against this is:
the permissible engagement and criticism is connected to the perceived purpose and function of the blog.
And he continues to illustrate what he means by this using an analogy of his Mediations blog being a party where he knows some people well, but that is also open to complete strangers as well.
I agree with Philip – it’s not really valid to suggest that there’s an equal level of scrutiny applied to all publications. The Financial Times gets a good deal more scrutiny that the local church newsletter that gets posted through my door once in a while.
Both are publications, yet one gets more scrutiny because of its purpose and status.
Blogs are no different – the GM Fastlane blog would be treated by its audience very differently from a 14 year old’s blog about dolphins (Philip’s example!). The way the messages land and the socially acceptable response behaviours are very different, yet the channel is the same.
It strikes me as a real oversimplification to suggest a degree of homogenity for blogs as either publications or places – a blog is a communication channel just like the many others that most public relations practitioners know already.
And just like those other channels, blogs have all the social and cultural overlays that make communication the complex business it is.
Andrea Weckerle is thinking about how professional and personal content can mix in a blog setting, and how each can influence a reader’s perception.
This is a great example of how complex these overlays can be – in some business cultures disclosure of personal details or information is an accepted part of building a relationship offline, and I can’t see why it would be any different online. In other cultures the opposite is true – and in the global world of social media it’s impossible to differentiate among your audience.
My take on this is that, as with all communications, the right content (and mix of professional vs personal content) depends on your audience. If you’ve build readership based on purely professional information, then changing this mix wouldn’t be a great idea.
But if the communication has always been professional information, with a degree of more personal information and endorsement then you would have built an audience on this basis, and the audience probably values the mix.
Actually writing this now I am beginning to question myself about this point – is there something about blogging that makes the inclusion of personal information somehow endorse or reinforce the professional stuff?
Maybe it’s about how we building trust in digital relationships, as the normal visual or social clues about trust we get face to face aren’t there online, so the better we feel we know the author we more we trust them?
I don’t think I’ve reached my conclusion on this part – it’ll be interesting to see the discussion continue.