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Public relations is the management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its publics. (8) Public relations serves a wide variety of organizations such as businesses, government agencies and religious and educational institutions. The relationships built are between the organization and employees, customers, local communities, shareholders and other organizations. PR agencies advise management at all levels in company policies and decisions. They research, conduct and evaluate programs to inform the public of the company's accomplishments. They analyze and anticipate the public opinion and attitudes that could have an effect on the organization. Public relations is about buildiing reputations, developing relationships, creating positive images and informing and persuading people.

Feedback from the online world is critical to an organization and it is the public relations practitioner's job to analyze and research the meanings of the feedback. Research is the scientific approach to answering questions, providing more reliable information in situations than just personal experience, historical precedent or authoriities. (8) It is the first step in the four-step public relations process. The first step is defining public relations problems and concerns (situation analysis.) The second step is planning and programming (creating a strategy.) The third step is taking action and communicating (implementation.) The last step is evaluating the program (assessment.)

The key to a company's success is through good public relations. The Internet has now become a key player in this success factor. It provides a faster, broader reach for PR practitioners. They use it to publish company press releases, background information, to introduce new promotions and to provide various promotional information.

The key to a successful company Web site, is it's appearance and "its catch." PR creates the catch. It is the public relations department's role to keep the information up-to-date and to conduct research studies to ensure that the company's clients are satisfied. (5)

The term "Viral Marketing" is becoming a very popular term in the online PR world. It is marketing "as word-of-mouth on steroids" and if done correctly, it promotes a product or service at a far less expense and much faster than any other channel of media available to PR practitioners. Until practitioners get a better grasp at how to achieve the perfect "viral marketing campaign," they will have to settle for the virtual press conferences, online media kits and press releases and site developments of special events. (9)

E-mail has replaced the telephone as the main method of communication for many PR practitioners. Either personal e-mail can be exchanged or newsletters can be sent out over subscription mailing lists. Distribution lists can be used to conduct focus groups, provide regular updates on important issues, share research findings and many other purposes. Discussion groups are also effective in managing a company's image.(1) Online PR advisory boards can test ideas for community reaction, create ambassadors for the company and learn from the feedback from the community.

There are several ways to encourage participation from the visitors to a site. Include easy to find and relevant contact information on each page. Ask for opinions through surveys and then post the results. Write the content in a friendly manner and ask the visitors to sign up for something such as a weekly or monthly newsletter. When site visitors contact the organization, make sure that the response is timely. Be sure to include a privacy policy on the site as well. (9)

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Last updated: April 18, 2001
Webmaster: Melissa Hilliard muffe@ufl.edu