Search Engine Blogs as Public Relations Tools
Blogs are used for various reasons including reporting news, communicating with specific groups of readers, and as Mark Cuban may tell you, spamming. With millions of active blogs being constantly launched by journalists, students, CEO’s and celebrities, the blog can be seen as a living and breathing ecosystem dependent on links, trackbacks, databases, feeds, and indexing for survival. Over the past year Google, Yahoo, MSN and Ask Jeeves; the un-argued big four in search, have launched their own blogs.
What started as a way to say hello to their users has now transformed into a cult of transparency and communications. Along with a dash of geek-speak, crisis management and pro-active posting, these blogs have also begun to outshine the traditional forms of press and public relations, as the press and public has become as non-traditional and non-linear as the blogosphere itself.
The new public relations model of the search blog brings with it a change in attitude and information. No longer are journalists and bloggers pitched as often by Google, Yahoo, Ask and MSN by the boilerplate press release, which is usually as damn interesting as reading mattress tags.
Instead, the new form of communication is an oxymoron; mass intimacy. Instead of one of our favorite PR reps contacting us with those old releases, we’re now contacted via email or IM with a link to the newest blog post. And if we subscribe to the RSS feeds of these blogs, we’re instantly contacted by our aggregator before the search engine PR people can say “Steve Rubel” three times.
Compared to what used to be non-info served on a paperplate, blog posts are now authored by the people creating the news. Take Google’s announcement of the hiring of Vint Cerf for example. Google could have easily just issued a mass release off to the major newspapers and sites, and the news would have been picked up over time, possibly the same day.. I mean it is Google news for Vint’s sake. But instead, Cerf himself posted the news on his hiring on the Google Blog in the post Cerf’s Up at Google!
We’ve seen a lot of similar posts on the Google Blog lately with the latest taking the unorthodox approach of crisis management in responding to a lawsuit filed by the Authors Guild against Google Print. Susan Wojcicki, Vice President of Product Management at Google acknowledged the lawsuit by the well respected Guild and basically laid down Google’s line of defense to the suit by listing four different case law rulings Google claims supports its Google Print actions. In a case which could get as dirty as a Maryland Gubernatorial Campaign, Google has quickly stated its case to the public and to the Authors Guild in a passive-aggressive manner, via the Google Blog.
Additionally, Yahoo has taken a more intimate approach to announcing new product offerings from Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Search and Y Search Marketing on the Yahoo Search Blog. They have not used the Y Search Blog as a way to respond to the controversies which have been dogging Yahoo over the summer (China Journalists, Spyware and YSM Crashing) but what they have done is used it as a channel to explain what Yahoo is working on and Yahoo’s direction in Search, Maps and Local; instead of simply announcing. Unlike the Google Blog, the Y Search Blog offers comments, which lets readers send feedback directly to the authors of the blog entries – non-PR affiliated Yahoo employees.
Sure the public relations teams at Yahoo, Google, Ask and MSN are pulling the strings behind the blogs. They’re not going to let every developer at their company blog about what they are working on and there is a science to when and where to discuss a new search application. And that’s the beauty of the Search Blogs, the PR people are behind the scenes directing the channel in the same way a political spin doctor would speak into the microphone that’s connected to the little headphone in their candidates ear on Meet the Press. That’s the PR person’s job, to set up the interviews… not do it themselves. To back up the importance of the Yahoo Search Blog to Yahoo’s press relations, the ‘former’ (?) head Yahoo Search relations person at Fleishman is now at Yahoo calling the shots for the Yahoo Search Blog. That’s a quite impressive statement for their future blog and PR plans.
Similarly the MSN Search’s WebLog is authored by differnet team members from Virtual Earth, Search, and Mobile Search. Like the Yahoo Search Blog, MSN also features comments and RSS/ATOM feeds. Interestingly enough, the Yahoo Search Blog includes MSN Search’s WebLog on their Blogroll, showing a seldom seen sense of competitive respect, which is still quite alive on the Blogosphere.
Like Yahoo and Google, MSN Search’s blog also features a search blog / search news “blog roll” which is called ‘Sites We Read’. I remember the first time I was made aware of the MSN Search’s blog, it was listed in my daily referral files. No email, no phone call, just a nice little link in my web stats which garnered my interest and led to a post. The links to Search Engine Journal also showed me that MSN, Google and the Yahoo Search Blog all cared about this site and gave us their unofficial blessing. The sense of appreciation that that gave us at Search Engine Journal is more than any free baseball cap, t-shirt, or “no comment” could ever bring.
Last but not least is the Ask Jeeves Blog (well maybe it is least based on search market share and because they have not linked to the Search Engine Journal – but have to Defamer, what gives Jim?). Ask has used their blog to also showcase some of their offerings and direction and the blog includes comments and trackbacks. The Ask Jeeves Blog, probably soon to be renamed the Ask Blog, also has integrated Bloglines blog search and blog tracking services into their format. Ask acquired Bloglines last New Year and what better way to confirm your love for such an acquisition than to feature its many uses on your own blog. Besides the occasional fun (cheesy) post by the cartoon butler character Jeeves, the Ask Blog is a sound offering.
Back to PR. I received an email the other day from Darcy Cobb of Dotted Line Communications, who represents Ask Jeeves. Darcy’s email, unlike her others, had a short summary of the integration of IAC’s Gift.com into Ask’s Smart Answers units and then a link to the blog. No fluff, no press release, no quote to cut and paste, just a link to the Ask Jeeves Blog. This, Darcy, was a perfect email.
I’m not a Public Relations specialist but I do pay attention to the PR industry (via Peter Shankman‘s YoungPRPros) and its trends and do truly feel that the Search Blogs used by the big four search engines are a successful model for some companies, especially tech friendly ones to follow. One of the greatest aspects of reading these entries, along with the non-official search blogs of Jeremy Zawodny of Yahoo and Google’s Matt Cutts, is that I already feel like I sort of know these people before having the chance run in with them at the bar at a search conference or wherever. Such a feeling of company to journalist relations is quite priceless. Like I said, Mass Intimacy.