One question I frequently get is whether our clients should include a new kind of communication called a blog in their PR strategy. After all, everyone who hires a PR professional is most often interested in one thing — getting their message out and creating buzz for their company or product. In this world of instant communication, isn’t a blog something to consider? So what is a blog anyway? Defined at blog.com, “a blog is a personal diary. A daily pulpit. A collaborative space. A political soapbox. A breaking-news outlet…A blog is whatever you want it to be. There are millions of them, in all shapes and sizes, and there are no real rules.” In simple terms, a blog is a Web site where you write stuff on an ongoing basis. New stuff shows up at the top, so your visitors can read what’s new. Then they comment on it or link to it or e-mail you. Or not. Since blogging started almost five years ago, blogs have reshaped the Web and enabled millions of people to have a voice and connect with others. And it seems that there is no end in sight. Today blogging can’t be ignored and should be considered a reasonable communications vehicle that can reach certain audiences. The Pew Internet and American Life Project reported in December that blogs were a key part of the on-line culture. The study also noted, however, that 62 percent of Internet users don’t know what a blog is. From a PR perspective, blogs are difficult to measure. Though there is a lot of hype and enthusiasm for them, what are the returns they yield? Is brand awareness enough for you? Also, blogs aren’t for the faint of heart, as they can open a company up to uncontrolled dialogue about a company or product. If you’re a business-to-business client, you might consider taking a measured approach to blogging: • Step One: Do your homework. According to Fortune magazine, tens of thousands of blogs are added each day to the more than five million that already exist. Finding out about — and keeping up with — the postings on the blogs that seem important to your business will require dedicated time from a technically knowledgeable, communication savvy person. If you’re serious about bringing blogging into your PR strategy, start with no more than six of the most popular blogs in your industry. Since bloggers aren’t bound by any restrictions and don’t necessarily adhere to the tenets of good journalism, try to understand the biases of each blog and be comfortable that they represent a good forum for you. • Step Two: Tread softly at first. Find an individual in your company to penetrate the top few blogs in your space. These people need to have the right writing style and understanding of the issues, so they can develop content-rich posts while complying with your corporate guidelines. Most importantly, they need to devote time to it over the course of at least one quarter so you can evaluate the results before deciding to set up your own blog. • Step Three: Jump in. Technically, it isn’t hard to set up a blog. For starters, go to blogger.com, where you can get a step-by-step guide to doing it. The hardest part of creating a blog is finding the right blogger who has the time to keep the content fresh and useful. Know, too, that bloggers are merciless when blogs go stale. So once you take the plunge and start one, you need to keep it up to date. Links are another key element in blogs. If your blog is creative and valuable to others, they’ll want to link to your blog. When your blog has lots of links, it rises in the search engine rankings, so you can generate a lot of publicity for your blog — and all the links that are attached. One of those links to your blog can be your company Web site. But in order to establish credibility, your blog should be objective and focus on the industry, not your company. If not, the bloggers are a fierce bunch and you can be severely criticized publicly, which doesn’t do much for your PR strategy. If you have a blog or visit one you think is great, this is the time to nominate it for Best Blog of the Year. It must be written about marketing, PR or advertising. Check out Marketing Sherpa’s Web site at marketingsherpa.com and surveymonkey.com. Above all though, be careful when blogging. And if you get into trouble, take two aspirin, proceed with caution and call me in the morning. Nancy Pieretti is an independent public relations practitioner. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 268-8007.