Are we drinking too much Kool-Aid?

Kool-Aid is a great drink. It has a great mascot - Oh Yeah! - with tons of great childhood memories, and is the subject of a great line that was not used enough during the dotcom era, is definitely not being used enough during the Web 2.0 era, and seems to be ignored during the Blog/Podcast era.

Often times, bloggers think that they are the end-all, be-all. If it's in a blog, it must be true. If a meme starts in a blog, it's the truth and should be taken at face value. If a corporation (besides Apple) gets taken to task in the blogosphere, it better damn fast bow down to the power of blogs, or there'll be hell to pay. Or, not really until the story appears in a main media source.

Often, PR bloggers answer for everything is to blog. Don't understand the blogosphere, and want to understand it? Then you have to blog. Stuck (or bankrupt) for ideas for a campaign that's strategic or sound? Launch a blog, or a bunch of 'customer' blogs, touting the product and the company.

Well, maybe we need to rethink this. Blogs are tools - I can't say that enough - but are they a tool that are understood by the mainstream public? While the new buzz is on Podcasting - and, there are a bunch of great ones along with really, really bad ones 'across the' country - are they having that big an impact with the public? Or, are we looking at blogs and Podcasts with technology blinders on?

Well, if an article from Reuters today is any indication, we need to rethink this "blog, blog, blog" and "podcast, podcast, podcast" mentality.

Proponents of the latest Web trends were warned Tuesday that the rest of the world may not have a clue what they are talking about.

A survey of British taxi drivers, pub landlords and hairdressers -- often seen as barometers of popular trends -- found that nearly 90 percent had no idea what a podcast is and more than 70 percent had never heard of blogging.

Yes, the US is different than the UK, but I wonder how different the survey would be in the US. If I can walk to the Starbucks near my office, and ask various people about blogging or podcasting and get blank looks, I know that the penetration levels are not there yet. If I get asked what that green thing is - um, my iPod - and then have to explain what an MP3 player is in the same neighborhood, well, that makes me wonder about Arizona and if the digital divide might be more than just economics, but geographical as well.

Sometimes, it's time to push back from the table and stop drinking and eating, and take off the rose-colored glasses and see what is really happening out there. It's common that people get caught up in the hype, and forget that there is a whole country out there, and that the Bay/Valley and New York might be influential, but that consumers/customers tend to live in those other states ... and they buy just as much.

Oh, the line is "drinking the Kool-Aid." A line that is probably more fitting is one an old boss used to say: "eating the dog food" or "eating the dog shit," both which are interchangeable, depending on the mood. Right now, we might be drunk on the Kool-Aid and have eaten too much dog food.

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17 comments

  1. A dead-on and honest post from a blogger who clearly enjoys Kool-Aid, but knows which flavors not to drink.

    The best PR minds know blogging, podcasting, et al are tools, and should rarely be placed at the top of a PR strategy at this point (and into the foreseeable future). The end-all, be-all, they are not.

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  2. I think it is probably most accurate to say, we're drinking the Kool-aid and eating the dog food. The problem is it smells like dog shit to everyone else, so they're staying away.

    Most of my non-tech, non-PR friends don't really know what I'm talking about, much less read my blog, or anyone else's blog for that matter.

    We are using tools, you're right. Not everyone understands the tools, just as I wouldn't know how to use an augur for instance. But an augur has its purpose even if most people don't see or use one frequently.

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  3. "Often, PR bloggers answer for everything is to blog."

    Really? :) How often? All PR bloggers, or some of them? Which ones?

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  4. Okay, Constantin, good point.

    How often - too often. Blogs seem to be a catch-all tool now for PR.

    And, not all bloggers, but many. As for which, it's not hard to tell who is toeing the party line and who is pitching blogs as PR strategies.

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  5. From my experience blogs and podcasting are not understood by the mainstream publc.

    I think the advantage that people in PR and PR Bloggers have is that we are always kept abreast of what's cutting edge in the industry. It's practically our duty to stay on top of trends/ current events/ and the like.

    Not everyone has this advantage.

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  6. Okay, I'll jump on the bandwagon, and "drink the Kool-Aid."

    "[A]re they (blogs, podcasts, etc.) a tool that are understood by the mainstream public?"

    Definitely not. It's human nature and easy to jump on the latest tech trends. Take broadband. I think I read on MarketingVOX that broadband is at 60% penetration. I didn't get detailed, but would guess that much of that penetration is via business.

    There's still a lot (me until Feb 05) on dialup.

    So, video, cool programing and other TOOLS won't reach a lot of consumers.

    The point is -- as Jeremy and others stated -- look at the big picture. If you are trying to reach an audience, then KNOW the audience.

    Tech? Sophisticated? Traditional? Print? Word-of-mouth?

    Whatever strategies and tactics work best to reach your targeted audience(s) is what you should use.
    -- Mike

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  7. following up to my first comment above....

    Should we be advising clients to blog as part of their PR strategy?

    Yes and No.

    Yes because we need to make sure they are aware of the blogosphere, but this doesn't mean that they have to start a blog. Let them determine that once they've gotten their 'feet wet' in the blogosphere pool.

    No becuase if they jump into a pool without seeing how deep it is - it could end up hurting them in the end.

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  8. How often - too often. And, not all bloggers, but many.

    Jeremy, the point of my questions was that it's not serving anyone to make generalizations. Different PR bloggers have different approaches to the role of blogging in PR. There's no one speaking for all of us. Each of us thinks for himself/herself. We own our own words.

    If you know PR bloggers who are using the "get a blog" line to any problem, please name them, and link to their postings.

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  9. What is this? HUAC?!

    There's no need to name names, because for people that have read PR blogs for the past year, it's been many a meme. Or, heck, read some of the posts on the Global PR Blog Week II.

    And, I agree that each PR blogger speaks and thinks for himself/herself. That's not my point. My point is that PR people sometimes need to take a step back and reassess the situation.

    Right now, we're drunk on blogs and podcasts, but what is going to come next? Are blogs and podcasts serving our clients best needs? That really depends, but it's not a fix all for all PR problems.

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  10. HUAC? That's a little bit extreme, don't you think?

    You don't have to make any effort to convince me that blogs are not a fix for all PR problems. That was my point: many PR bloggers will agree with you on this.

    That's why it's unfair to say that "Often, PR bloggers answer for everything is to blog". "Some PR bloggers, as [name/link], [name/link], and [name/link]" will be more accurate and will provide context to people who are reading this post only (it's hard to believe, but not everybody read PR blogs for the past year).

    "heck, read some of the posts on the Global PR Blog Week II."

    I'm dissapointed by your remark, Jeremy. I'm glad, though, that you didn't say "read all the posts on the Global PR Blog Week II"; there's still hope that maybe we'll find out which postings/authors, exactly, you find so appalling.

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  11. "No becuase if they jump into a pool without seeing how deep it is - it could end up hurting them in the end."

    Actually, Blake. The real problem might be that first adopters should be warned about diving in because they might not realize how shallow the pool is ... :grin:

    'Some' of the PR bloggers are only seeing what they want to see. IMO, it is most visible with regard to blog consultants.

    There is too much myopia out there.

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  12. Good post and good discussion. I think both sides of the debate are part right, Jeremy, because...

    1)The first-adopters are often correct that a new technology will have a huge cultural impact (and in this case, I believe that is true of blogging), and

    2)The first-adopters are almost invariably INCORRECT in predicting what form that impact will take (and I certainly believe that is the case with current blog prognosticators.)

    The lesson is, let's not put our heads in the sand, but let's not get ahead of ourselves, either.

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  13. Well, yes Constantin, HUAC was a little over the top. But, you were asking me to name names, and that's what I always think of with that phrase. And, I won't name names because they are obvious.

    Thanks for the comment, SB, and putting everything into perspective.

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  14. Then there's the phenomenon of bloggers who drink their own Kool-Aid. "You're not going to give me a press pass to this conference? I'm an A-list PR blogger for Chrissakes!"

    Ah, it's enough for me to be momma's favorite A-lister...

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  15. The problem with blogs and podcasts is the same as every other new technology. It becomes a fad. Suddenly, the buzz seems to get around that blogging is going to take over the world. Now, I am not underestimating the power of blogs, but I think they need to be carefully thought about and strategized.

    Right now, I am taking a class called Promotion Strategy. It’s all about the Advertising industry. Anyway, in the class, we have been stressed the importance of message strategy. Creativity can not lead an ad campaign. Yet, more often than not, creativity DOES lead an ad campaign.

    So here is where I feel like this relates to the blogosphere. Blogs are like advertisements; suddenly every business just assumes they need them. They treat these blogs as a task and not as an investment in the future of a company. Companies are popping up blogs left and right and basing them solely on creativity. With any sort of public relations or advertising campaign their needs to be a clear communication goal. Blogs need to incorporate that goal as well.

    The way I see it, everyone these days has a blog: Students, professionals, companies, everyone. A company needs to ask itself, what is going to differentiate my blog from the million others out there? What is going to make my target audience read my blog? What am I trying to accomplish through creating this blog? When these questions are successfully answered, I think a truly great blog can be created. However, if these questions are ignored, they will be a waste of time and money.

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  16. I am a little scared to even venture into these waters, as the debate as to how much or little PR professionals know about blog/podcasting technology looks a little heated! To clarify myself, I want to show an example of the average PR student's view of blogs:

    This girl, lets call her ErinM, learns that a requirement of completing a course is to blog weekly. ErinM runs home, tells boyfriendX (aka big computer nerd) that she has to do this 'blog thing.' - and he calls her a geek!

    I am, of course, the novice blogger. I agree with Jeremy that the fantastic power of blogging causes those in the know to overestimate how effective their new media is at reaching a pertinent audience. While it may not be blinders, these tech-savvy individuals use their tools without thought of their relevance: you wouldn't drive a nail with a power saw... The word 'blog' has been used in mainstream arenas, but the true definition of that word is still a mystery to many in and out of the PR profession.

    This dissonance between what we think people understand and what they really take from a blog experience is only a reflection of where we are right now. The mainstream will eventually catch on, and will do so only by these passionate individuals' devotion to the media, and bringing others online. My teacher, Robert, deserves some credit for making us a class of geeks. We will at least know about the blog world, whether or not we feel the need to use it in our professional careers.

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  17. I believe bloggers (especially in public relations) are drinking too much Kool-Aid. Before I took Robert French's Foundations of Public Relations class at Auburn University, I had never heard of a blog. I took that class Spring 2005. Ever since last January when I started his class, my life has been centered around blogs.

    It took me a while to understand exactly what a blog was and how it could benefit me. After many discussions in class with Robert, I now realize how wonderful blogs can be. For people that are not so lucky to be in one of Robert's classes, however, it is extremely difficult for them to wrap their brain around such a concept.

    When I tell my friends in other majors that I'm blogging, the majority of them have no idea what that means. When I explain it to them, they simply answer with "Oh" rather than "Oh, really? My major could use something like that". The reason they don't look further into the subject is because they didn't understand it in the first place.

    I think it's wonderful that public relations practitioners have become so proficient in using blogs and I believe blogs will help our field enormously. Blogging experts and public relations practitioners next need to learn how to share the Kool-Aid with the rest of the world.

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