Good public relations campaigns -- for e-commerce as well as brick-and-mortar businesses -- often combine online and off-line media.

However, the Internet is fundamentally different from off-line media for public relations.

If you're just starting an Internet public relations campaign, keep in mind the fundamental qualities that make the Web different.

Immediacy. When you put information on a Web site or post a message in a discussion area, it is immediately available to others. So, you can't spend as much time formulating answers to these questions asyou can in off-line communications. Internet users expect immediacy.

Internationality. You can't control where your online communication will be seen or by whom. On the Web, it resoundsthrough different countries and cultures. So language, examples, icons, and colors must speak to different cultures. Keepjargon and acronyms to a minimum.

Availability. The Internet doesn't sleep. News is published constantly, and Internet users are engaging in conversation aroundthe clock. Depending on your business, you'll need to adjust your resources to monitor the medium outside the traditional9-to-5 workday or make arrangements to deal with issues that come up when you're away from the office.

Low barriers to entry. Anyone can contribute virtually anything on the Internet. All you need is access to a computer. As aresult, there's more competition online than off-line, which places a premium on effective communication in a medium wellsuited to the shrinking attention spans of its users.

Relative low cost. Many companies experience significant cost savings by putting information on Web sites rather than intoprint brochures. And the upside of e-mail for many is it's a cheap and effective means of reaching out to existing and potentialmedia, customers, and other key audiences -- assuming it's used wisely.

Interactivity. This is the true power of the medium. People can and will respond to what you say. They'll complain andargue. You need to accept -- and even relish -- such feedback as a necessary part of practicing public relations online. Thetrue test of any organization is how it deals with people who disagree with it. The Internet rewards organizations that live bythis adage and punishes those that ignore it.

Anonymity. The verbal and visual cues we take for granted in off-line communication aren't available online. As a result,what you say and how you say it becomes more important than in off-line communication, where other factors often determinehow a message is interpreted.

Randomness. There's no one path into and through any document online, in contrast to off-line media such as newspapers,magazines, and books. So you need to orient the visitor to your material and develop an appropriate writing style in the formof short blocks of text, bulleted, or numbered lists, and links to related information.

Unreliability. The Internet is a great tool for spreading wild rumors, and users regard it as such. That's why it's critical tofocus on building trust with your key audience as you prepare and disseminate content by applying the following concepts:

  • Provide information about yourself, including academic and professional qualifications.
  • Be clear about whether you're providing information, marketing your services, or selling a product.
  • Cite reputable third-party resources to support what you say.
  • Offer links to add value to user experience. Consider what information might be requested to supplement what's visible.
  • Describe links so that what users click on is what they get.
  • Write with users' interests in mind and provide clear, concise information.

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