Protecting Your Blog From Copycats

A writer friend recently asked me if there was a way to make it so that people couldn’t copy blog content in order to repost it elsewhere, and what the online marketing implications would be. If you’ve been blogging for any length of time, chances are you’ve run into this issue.

Plagiarists, Writing Thieves, and Copycats
Photo CC Attribution Share Alike 2.5 by DrL

For instance, the story of a plagiarized blogger who was told by Cook’s Source magazine that she should actually pay for being ripped-off by them outraged the blogosphere this fall, resulting in the editor ultimately choosing to shut down the magazine entirely. And, even seasoned politicians may coopt other peoples’ content, despite the fact they should know better.

So, copyright infringement is definitely alive and well in the 21st century, and it seems particularly rife in the blogosphere where the casual and ephemeral nature of blog pieces seem to tempt IP thieves into adopting text and republishing it in their own names.

It’s so common, however, that it’s not likely that each and every incident will turn into a blogstorm of popular outrage like the writer who was plagiarized by Cook’s Source magazine. So, what’s to be done if you’re a writter who doesn’t want their stuff taken and used without permission?
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The Associated Press’s News Microformat

The Associated Press (AP) recently announced a semantic markup standard they’d like to see adopted online for news articles – the “hNews Microformat“. The proposed microformat was announced simultaneously with their declaration of a news registry system to facilitate protection and paid licensing arrangements for quoting and using news article material. While the overall announcement and news registry system was widely ridiculed in the blogosphere (in part because of a confusingly inaccurate description which stated that the microformat would serve as a “wrapper” for news articles, and the overall business model and protection scheme seems both naively optimistic and out-of-touch with copyright “fair use” standards and actual technological constraints), but the hNews microformat part itself could potentially gain some traction.

So, if you’re an online marketer of a site which publishes large amounts of articles and news stories, is the hNews microformat worth adopting to improve your online optimizations?

AP Protect, Point & Pay Diagram
(AP's Diagram Illustrating "Protect, Point & Pay" System & hNews Microformat)

I’ve long been a proponent of incorporating microformats within webpages as a component of overall good usability and potentially valuable formatting for search engine optimization purposes. Microformats can provide some additional, enhanced usability for advanced users who are using devices which can read the information and store it for future use, and they can potentially improve search engines’ ability to understand the content within webpages which could lend a marginal increment more SEO value.

Both Yahoo! and Google have been sending signals for the past few years that they consider some of the microformats to be potentially useful as well. They’ve both marked up their own local search results with hCard microformatting for end users’ benefit, and they’re both starting to make use of microformatting to give certain types of data special treatment. In the case of Google, they announced that they’d begin displaying some microformat data with slightly different listing layouts in the search results, a treatment that they’ve dubbed “Rich Snippets”. And, they say they’ll be rolling out more treatments based on microformats in the future.

With this background in mind, it’s not surprising that the AP has jumped on the microformats bandwagon, but it also appears that they’re trying to influence the development of them where news articles are concerned, with a major agenda in mind. They wish to include some sort of webbug in each news story’s markup, so that publishers of the content can be tracked more easily by them – it will be clearer when sites are reprinting news stories, and how frequently those stories are visited and viewed by consumers online.

Other portions of the hNews microformat appear to be more useful from both a search engine viewpoint and publisher site aspect. Labelling of items including keyword tags, headlines, main content, geographic locations and including author’s vcard info all appear to be valuable standards.

(I could really criticize their “geo” tagging of the articles as quite inadequate, though. Merely adding a longitude and latitude to an article seems quite short-sighted, because there needs to be further definition of what is being geotagged. If an article is about multiple locations, it would be ideal to label each geotag to tell what item is being located. Further, it would be ideal to label the article with an assumption of the geographic region that the article should be expected to appeal to. Is it mainly of interest to people within a particular city, state/province, region, nation, or is it of international interest? Still, having some geotag is better than nothing.)

For any marketers out there considering adopting the hNews Microformat standard, I’d advise waiting until the dust settles on this one. Other microformats developed perhaps more objectively, and there’s a lot of distrust and disaffection with the heavy news industry influence that is involved in this proposed standard. Currently, I’m not convinced that it will be widely enough accepted to become valuable for use. While having AP partners all adopting the standard may be sufficient enough to reach a tipping point where many other sites and companies will make use of hNews, Google’s public response to it was unusually cold-sounding.

Blogger/reporter Matthew Goldstein quotes Google’s response on the matter: “Google welcomes all ideas for how publishers and search engines can better communicate about their content. We have had discussions with the Associated Press, as well as other publishers and organizations, about various formats for news. We look forward to continuing the conversation.” While sounding expectably neutral and noncommittal, Google is also stating that this has not been widely-accepted by everyone, even within the news industry itself. This in combination with widespread skepticism within the developer/microformat community and blogosphere signal that hNews may have a very long way to go before it becomes something worthwhile for optimizing articles on publisher sites.

So, for now I advise avoiding this proposed standard, sit back and see how the dust settles. If you’re already syndicating content via RSS and Atom feeds, then you’re already distributing your content in a manner that’s easily absorbable and readable by search engines.

Dallas Cowboys Practice Field Disaster – Citizen Reporting & Photos

I’m saddened to report that there was a terrible disaster in my neighborhood today – the Dallas Cowboys’ indoor practice field in Valley Ranch was hit by the strong winds in the violent Texas storm that blew through this afternoon, and the lightweight structure collapsed under the wind strain.

Firemen look over Dallas Cowboys Practice Facility Wreckage

It was just shortly after the storm passed that I was listening to the TV in my home with half an ear, relieved that my trees didn’t fall on my home, when I heard the news that the Dallas Cowboys’ facility collapsed. This place is just south of my home a few blocks, and I got really familiar with the location when my kid sister moved out of my house (she’s about half my age and lived with me when she started college in Irving) — she lived literally right across the street from the giant structure.

I call it a gym, but the place was really an indoor field — a large, inflated roof covered the whole thing, much like the roofs over some sports domes. I knew immediately that the storm must’ve really hit the roof hard, and finally gotten ahold of it and ripped it off, similar to how the Superdome roof was ripped off in New Orleans, back during Hurricane Katrina.

I’m an amateur photographer, and I couldn’t resist jumping straight outside to snap a few pics of the collapsed building.

Wreckage and Emergency Personnel - Dallas Cowboys

I speak at internet marketing conferences and write about optimizing websites for search, and one area I’ve often spoken upon is how to leverage photos to get links and to drive traffic to websites. There’ve been a number of occasions when journalists have contacted me, asking to use my photos to illustrate their stories, and I almost always allow them to do so for free, so long as they give me a link back in return. A link is the online, technical equivalent of a by-line or credit-line, and it’s only fair that I get credit for my work.

I’ve had bloggers often ask me how to promote their blogs, and this is an example of how to go about it. Most of us see or attend various news-worthy or interesting events in our lives, and it doesn’t take much to snap photos of them and provide them for others to use in return for a link back.

So, if you’re a journalist or blogger interested in writing on the Dallas Cowboys facility’s collapse, you’re welcome to use any of my photos – click on the ones in this story and they’ll take you to my Flickr account where you can find more, and you can see instructions on how to cite me as the photographer.

My heart goes out to the players who were injured today, and to their families. I really hope that everyone will be okay!

(* I’m right now weathering the second strong storm moving through the area – I sure hope my home and trees survive it, too!)

XMen Origins – Wolverine & 20th Century Fox Miss The Online Marketing Buzz

This past weekend the internet was buzzing. What were they buzzing about? The movie trailer for the new Wolverine movie coming out. It wasn’t on main stream news, where it was buzzing was on social networks, social news sites, video shares and forums as well as social communication channels like Twitter.

The trailer hit theaters as a lead in to the Keanu Reeves’ movie, a re-adaptation of “The Day The Earth Stood Still“. The first real big buzz coming Friday night. A smaller bit of buzz about the Wolverine movie came during Comic Con this year where they showed a slightly different trailer.

So how did 20th Century Fox stumble out of the gate on this one? There’s several ways, and as a marketer who’s well versed in online media, it just frustrated me to no end that these big movie houses still just do not get online marketing in any sense of the form.

What Happens When You Can’t Find The Website?

Let’s start with their website. Think you can find the official Wolverine website by typing in Wolverine Movie? How about Wolverine Movie Trailer? How about using it’s official movie title “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”? Nada – Zippo – Zilch. All through out the weekend I tried, today I took screen caps – no where in the top 10, take a look below (click the thumbnails to get a larger view).

Wolverine Movie Google Search   Wolverine Movie Trailer Google Search   X-Men Origins Wolverine Google Search

X-Men Origins Wolverine Official Site Google SearchTheir website is in flash, totally absolutely in flash with absolutely no content a search engine’s spider can read. The only thing it can read is the title tag for this site. Talk about being invisible to the search engines, and to the rabid Wolverine fans! It wasn’t until I typed in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine Official Site” did I get the movie site to come up in Google. Now tell me who the heck is going to type that in, other than me who was bound and determined to find the official site?

Video, Video, Video… It’s Where the People Are At

Now lets go to the subject of the trailer. Talk about needing to loosen control! 20th Century Fox definitely needs to loosen their death grip if they aren’t going to put their trailer out on their site the same day they release it in a movie theater. They also need to realize that when they don’t come up for “Wolverine Trailer” for their own site, they need to have it ranking else where, or someone else will. On Friday, Saturday and early Sunday there was still no Wolverine trailer on the official site, what in the world is wrong with their marketing team? Granted today when I went out to look the trailer is now there.

People were clamoring to see this trailer who didn’t want to go see this movie. Let me tell you, as a comic book gal, and a XMen fan from my childhood years, I was clamoring to see this trailer. I’ve been waiting like the rest of the XMen fans since the last movie to get more. We all scour the internet for clues, tidbits and the slightest bit of information we can glean to satisfy our need.

Thus why looking for this trailer became an obsessions with not just me, but others as well over the weekend. According to Groundswell, the author Charlene Li, points out that 29% of the people in social media are watching videos other people have made. Google was pulling down more trailers of Wolverine this weekend than you can imagine. But people were still searching for this trailer on YouTube and any other video share they could find.

Wolverine Trailer Search on YouTube

The Fans Take Action…. 20th Century Fox Misses Out

I did find it on another video share, I’m not going to say where, because I don’t want to see it taken down. I found another trailer from Comic Con too – and what’s amazing about that video, it captures people cheering during the trailer, talk about fandom! Cheering during a trailer – now that speaks volumes.

People were videoing the trailer from their phones while in the movie The Day The Earth Stood Still. They uploaded it to video shares and blogged about it. Why did they do this? 1) they love XMen, Wolverine in particular 2) they recognized that 20th Century Fox wasn’t filling their need or the need of others.

No where on YouTube is there an official Wolverine, 20th Century Fox, or Marvel Channel for the movie. What 20th Century Fox doesn’t realize is that there is real buzz going on about this movie. One look at Google Insights tells the story. Just over this weekend searches for Wolverine skyrocketed, several terms are break out terms with searches increasing over 1000% (I don’t get the big surge in Michigan though). None of these terms are pushing traffic towards the official XMen site either, and if you notice, none of these terms use the long arduous title that 20th Century Fox Does.

click images for a larger view
Google Insights - Wolverine - Trend and Map Data  Google Insights - Wolverine - Search Trend Data

So this leads to showing you the audience, a lesson in strategy in combining both SEO and Social Media strategies together when you are launching something big. When you understand online media, and aren’t having such a death grip on control of your brand, you can reap huge rewards. Unfortunately for 20th Century Fox, they are just making their fans of XMen and Wolverine not like them very much.

And btw the way, yes I did a fan girl squeal when I saw Gambit. 😉 ahhh Remmy LeBeau makes me weak!

Washington Post covers Corporate Blogging

Wondering if a company blog is right for your company? Wondering if your company is ready for a company blog?

The Washington Post tackles the highs and lows of corporate blogging in an article this week, Marketing Moves to the Blogosphere. Writer Sarah Halzack pulls in several examples of how businesses big and small are blogging successfully:

  • A company called Honest Tea used its blog to address customer concerns after Coca-Cola bought a large stake in its business.
  • Marriott CEO Bill Marriott’s blog is such a success that the company is able to track reservations it generates: “Marriott has made more than $5 million in bookings from people who clicked through to the reservation page from Marriott’s blog.”
  • A web development company called Viget Labs uses its blogs as a tool for recruiting new employees.
  • Dolcezza, a small ice cream, uses its blog to bring people into its stores and spend money. “When his second store opened in Bethesda in July, Duncan used his blog to advertise an opening night ice cream giveaway. He ended up serving over 300 gallons of ice cream to more than 1,000 customers that night.”

The article also includes some tips on handling comments and other things to think about before starting a company blog. It’s a good read, especially if that’s the position you’re in today.

Can Businesses Combat the Constant, Experienced Complainer?

By Liana “Li” Evans

As a business, no doubt you will have your run in with an upset customer or two. But what happens when that customer turns into a troll? Or what happens when you are subjected to the “experienced complainer”?

Santa with the Reindeer ComplainerWhat’s an experienced complainer? Well those are the people who know how to “troll” the system. Knowing that if they complain enough, they’ll be placated with discounts, coupons, certificates, and special things all to “soothe” their complaints. They then figure out they can do this just about anywhere they go. All of a sudden, seemingly or magically they get free trips, special discounts, and the like, all because they threaten to write a letter of complaint. These days, even more damaging, they threaten to write a negative review on sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor or Epinions, or even possibly more damaging – write a blog post with a scathing review, with links to your website that are nofollowed.

As customers, I’m sure we’ve seen these types of people. Nothing ever makes them happy, not even free things (undoubtedly they’ll find something wrong with that, too). So what’s a company to do? How can they fight back? Can they takes steps to protect their good name and reputation from these types of complainers, scammers and trolls?

Seems helpless doesn’t it? Well take heart, people in these social communities are smart. Especially if you are making an honest effort to communicate with your audience and reaching out to them. They can smell a “troll” a mile away. They can peg a constant complainer usually within 2-5 posts on a forum or a blog, and they can certainly use their own voice to “out” them as the scammer they seem to be.

Is there anything else you can do? Well in this day and age of digital photos, videos and instant reviews by bloggers and review sites, you do need to do your do diligence before taking extreme actions against the constant complainers. Research and documentation into them is probably the best course of action, to proove that the complainer has a history of “never being happy”.

Take the case of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and a couple from Cleveland. I wrote about them on SearchMarketingGurus. This couple has done nothing but complain for years and were “soothed” with discounts, special packages and percentages off – all because they were Diamond Club members. I did a little poking around in forums, and the wife seems to leave a wide path of complaints all over the place. The communities even call her a whiner.

Royal Caribbean seems to have done a bit of homework here, and felt they’d never be able to make this couple happy. Guess what they did? They banned the couple from taking cruises on their cruise line for life. Drastic? Perhaps, but it does alleviate the issue dealing with a customer who seems more out to take advantage of your business than anything else.

While banning customers from your business might not be the first option you want to take, it is there if you have the need to do so, but prepare for backlash, undoubtedly the customer will play the victim in the end. In the case of Royal Caribbean, the local news interviewed the wife about the distressing news RC banned them, and a website or two came to her defense, saying complaining to much got them banned. But looking at other sites, the wife has been outted as a “constant whiner” – so who’s right? I guess that’s up to Royal Caribbean’s customers and online community to make their decision with their wallets.

If you are active with your audience, talking to them, interacting with them in social media, believe it or not a lot of times your customers will take up your defense. So the lesson to be learned here is hold an honest conversation with your customers or audience, as they say, the best defense, is a great offense.

It’s Not the A-List Bloggers You Should Worry About

By Li Evans

What do Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama have in common? It is a woman. However, its not the woman that was taking the spotlight Saturday afternoon. No this time its not Hillary, so you need to guess again. Give up?

Mayhill Fowler, Photo Credit Thor Swift of Washington PostMayhill Fowler

WHO?! Yep, that’s right Mayhill Fowler, someone you probably never heard of until today. Both of these polished and charismatic politicians were rocked by this unsuspecting amateur blogger, who is among 2,500 bloggers that write on Arianna Huffington’s The Huffington Post. The 61 year old, mother of two and Tennessee native, caught both of these high profile people in rather unflattering situations.

Fowler, back in April, caught Barack Obama’s “Bitter” comments on tape and set loose a firestorm for his campaign efforts in my state of Pennsylvania. This was literally non-stop for 2 weeks prior to my state’s primary.

Last week, Fowler was in South Dakota and caught Bill Clinton in what seems to be an unguarded moment when he let loose on his thoughts about Vanity Fair and their article about him.

Fowler, has no journalistic training. Fowler has no online marketing training. Fowler is a citizen journalist who describes herself as a person who “just discovered that I’m impelled to get out there and get the truth of the matter” to Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz. Armed with her tape recorder (not even an iPod!), Fowler won’t even read her own posts, since the editors tend to change her lead-ins so more people will “click in” to read her pieces.

There’s a lesson here for businesses, public relations specialists and online marketers. It isn’t the A-listers like TechCrunch, Scoble or Rubel that are gettting the scoops these days and they should not be the sole focus of your online marketing efforts to get noticed or “picked up by”. Passionate bloggers who are in your industry writing about what they love best are who you should be paying attention, too.

As someone at one of my WOMMU breakout sessions said “A-Listers” at times can be like echo-chambers.

I couldn’t agree more. Be cognizant of the B,C and even D list bloggers. If those bloggers have any type of SEO training, their blog posts could start to rank right up there with the A-Listers. What’s more important to note, is that these “smaller” bloggers probably have a more passionate reader base, and a “scoop” on an “amateur” bloggers blog, can be just as damaging or beneficial, than the echo-chambers of the A-Listers.

Just ask Barack Obama and Bill Clinton about Mayhill Fowler, that should be enough to convince you.

*photo credit, Thor Swift of the Washington Post.

Why You Shouldn’t Blog

By Liana “Li” Evans

How\'s My Blogging Photo by Scott Beale of Laughing SquipJeremiah Owyang has a great post on “The Many Challenges of Corporate Blogging“. It’s a great read, and I highly suggest taking the few minutes to take in what Jeremiah’s saying. The reasons he lists are spot on, but Debbie Weil author of the BlogWrite for CEO’s blog and The Corporate Blogging Book, added a few more reasons, and I’ve added a few more. If you haven’t read Debbie’s book, this is another read I highly recommend if you even have the inkling you want to start a blog, or you’ve started one and you are wondering where to go next. If you’re interested, check out my review of The Corporate Blogging Book.

I think these reasons that both Jeremiah and Debbie listed are all spot on, but not just for CEO’s or Corporations. These reasons are spot on for anyone considering starting a blog, from the work at home mom to the startup entrepreneur, or even the stamp collector wanting to convey his passion. Blogging is a commitment, it’s not just a fad.

So here’s the reasons I listed in the comments of Jeremiah’s post, with a little more in-depth explanation.

  • Don’t Just Blog to “Blog”
    Blogging because you read about it on TechCrunch, Newsweek or FastCompany isn’t the reason to blog. Just because your competitor is blogging, doesn’t mean you should blog either. Blogging isn’t just a fad anymore, its a commitment, and unless you can give it the time and nurturing it needs, you’ll likely do more damage to your reputation than if you hadn’t blogged at all.
  • Don’t Blog Unless You’ve Got Your “Voice” Figured Out
    Will your blog be just one person? Will it be a team of people blogging about different aspects of your company? Will you talk about products, services, issues, events, company news? Before you even start a blog, you should define a clear road map of what is “off limits” to talk about on the blog, how to handle issues as they arise (who handles what, and what’s the tone) and exactly what kind of demeanor will be portrayed on the blog – will it be laid back, straight talk, humorous or just newsy?
  • Don’t Blog Unless You’ve Got the Interest
    If you are starting a blog just because “everyone else is” and you really don’t like to right, or communicate with the outside world, perhaps you should rethink this strategy. Why? Because without a doubt, your utter lack of interest, your lack of passion and your lack of love for conveying why people should care will shine through. It will be just like those commercials Ben Stein did for “dry eyes”, he sounds monotonous and boring. If its a reach for you “social” you might want to think about looking at other online strategies to convey your company’s efforts and news.
  • and lastly…

  • Don’t Blog Unless You’ve Got The Resources

    Time, people and most importantly content ideas are the resources I’m referring to. Unless you’ve got the time to dedicate to writing a post, responding to comments and even dealing with spam here or there, you might want to think again about starting a blog. If it’s only you writing in the blog, and you don’t have the staff resources to help you out, again, you might want to rethink your strategy. If you can’t plan out your content for at least 2 weeks in advance, you really should rethink this blogging strategy. The worst thing a “blogger” can do, is start off a blog in high speed, slow down and then just stop because they are either burnt out, lack the time, lack the resources or just have no more content to give. You’ve created a following and now you’ve let them down – its nearly impossible to get them back when you find the resources you should have ad in the first place.

* Photo Credit, Scott Beale of Laughing Squid

Empowering Your Brand Evangelists

By Liana Evans
Brand PromotersEvery company large or small wishes for the kind of brand loyalists and promoters that companies like Apple, Webkinz, and Starbucks have. Companies pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to figure out how to attain that kind of brand loyalty, and most of those companies fail. To a point, even Apple fails at capturing the opportunity of furthering their brand because they do not engage and empower their fan base nearly as ofter or to the potential they could.

While at the WOMMA WOMM-U event, I sat in a breakout session that focused on “Building Sustainable WOM Strategies”. There was a lot of key take aways I got from that session, but one of the ones that really hit me, that I see so many companies fail at is empowering their brand promoters or brand loyalists.

It’s great to have those rabid fans who talk about your products or services and how great and wonderful they think they are to everyone they meet. Word of mouth like that can be better than running a commercial on Desperate Housewives for 3 weeks, especially in a world of DV-R and TIVO. Having an unpaid spokes person, who’s had personal experience with your brand, willingly promoting it and touching their friends is a great thing to have.

Having those is great, but can you make it a better situation, not just for you but for them? Can you empower those brand loyalists? Can you make their recommendation more than just words? Can you make their words become actual engagement opportunities with the people they are speaking with? Do you think it’s possible to even track this type of empowerment?

The answer to all of these is yes.

Yes you can empower your brand loyalists, and yes you can track these types of engagements if you plan and strategize for it. But you are probably sitting here wondering ‘But How?!’ Well there are a lot of ways to do it, you really need to stop and think about your audience and how they speak about you. The key to empowering your evangelists is in understanding what’s in it for them. What do they gain from promoting your brand, and what can they gain from being empowered to promote a brand they love?

From coupons to exclusive opportunities, these are just some of the ways brands can empower their most loyal customers. By giving them something to “back up” what they are telling their friends, families and neighbors, it gives these listeners another reason to really believe what they are saying could possibly be true. As people we are skeptical of people who seem to always promote without any back up, but empower that promoter, and you’ve got an entirely different ballgame on your hands.

Why Most Public Relations Firms Aren’t Great Social Media & Blogging Experts

By Li Evans

As a online marketer with a public relations background I get pretty fired up about Public Relations companies who think that Social Media and Blogging are just something they can incorporate into their “publicity” offerings without any experience in the online world. I’ve done public relations before, and I know what goes into it, I know how to make the contacts, I know how to approach media outlets, and I know how to maintain the clients message. I’ve run successful public relations campaigns for clients that included press releases, media spots, events for the press and events for the community, so it isn’t like I come at this from an online marketer’s perspective that only online marketers should do this type of work.

There are some very experienced public relations companies out there that fully understand and grasp the effect that online media has on a company’s name, brand, products and reputation. They’ve been able to make the transition from working offline, to truly understanding and working with online media outlets, which has a very loose definition. However, these public relations firms are very few and far between, and usually swamped because there are so few of them.

Then you have Public Relations firms who “think” they get it. Who claim they understand bloggers. Who think because they just hired this college graduate who has a Facebook page, that they can spin that into being able to map out a social media strategy for a client. Who think that bloggers are just another place to mass email their client’s press release too.

The key here is “don’t believe the hype“. Public relations firms are great at “SPIN“! It’s their job, it’s what they do best. But, trusting in that spin, when it’s not really true can cost your dearly when it comes to your online reputation. This is the reason you really need to investigate a public relations company’s strategies’ when it comes to online marketing. Here are some things to look out for:

  • Look At Their Own Website: Is it all about them? Does it even work right? Is it all in Flash? How did you find them in the first place? All of this comes into play in a big way. If they cannot translate what they do offline into online success for themselves, why would you even want to deal with them? If all they can promote was that they won this PR award or that PR honor, and it has nothing to do with online marketing, what does that tell you? Here are some key things to look at.
    • Does the site work properly?
    • Are they optimized for the search engines?
    • Is their site done in all Flash?
    • Is there site image heavy?
    • Is it all about the awards they’ve won?
    • Do they even have a blog?
  • Look At Their Company Blog: This is one key indicator that a public relations company understands bloggers, the community and social media. If they don’t even have a blog, you might want to find another company to work with to handle your online marketing efforts in the blogging and social media space. If they do have a blog, look at it closely. A serious down deep look at their own blog.
    • How long as it been in existence?
    • What kind of content does it have?
    • Is the content just press releases?
    • How often do they blog?
    • How many subscribers does it have?
    • Do they allow comments?
    • Is there much discussion going on?
    • Do they use social media promotion (Delicious, Digg, StumbleUpon, etc.)?
  • Ask To See How the Contact Bloggers: This could get a little tricky, however, a good public relations company just like in the above example, should have no problem with this. They should be showing you that they establish a relationship with a blogger first. If they start pulling out numbers of bloggers they can contact – run, run very far away. If they start spouting “we can contact XXX bloggers with your information”, or they even mutter, “we can distribute your press release…” when you mention blogging or bloggers to them, its time to close up that briefcase and end the meeting.
  • Ask To See Success Stories: Don’t just take their word for it. Ask to see SEVERAL successful results. Ask for general information about their strategy. A public relations company who knows they are successful and has a great strategy in place for working in this space will have no problem showing you exactly what they did for other clients. The key is to understanding that if their approach for each client is unique in social media and blogging. If the public relations company shows you the same strategy over and over again, it’s time to move on.
  • Ask About Their Strategy For You: If they start saying “We’ll take the standard approach” or “We’ve done this a thousand times before for other clients”, stop and hang up the phone. Every client is different when it comes to social media. If you are a textile company and they start talking about Digg, honestly, it’s time to start looking at a company who recognizes each client has to be dealt with individually, there’s no “mass marketing plan” for social media and blogging.
  • Ask for References & Do Research!: Ask for references from clients they’ve worked with in the past on online media promotions when using social media or blogging. Now, just don’t take that references word for it either! You can do the research, just go to any search engine, or look at that client’s website and you can likely see the results. The online results will speak for themselves as to how successful the public relations company is.
  • Don’t get caught up in the hype that because they are a public relations company they can handle your online marketing. This is serious business, it’s your name or your brand. It’s something you cherish with pride. The last thing you need is a blogger being mass emailed about your event, when that blogger has asked several times to be taken off your public relations company’s mass spam list they send out every press release they write to. It really doesn’t bode well for your chances the blogger will ever pay attention – other than to write you and email letting you know your public relations company really doesn’t know what they are doing when it comes to online media. I know, I just did that this morning!