Avontuur, the elegant restaurant and wine bar located just minutes from the Waterfront, was the location for the first PR-Net meeting of 2006. Public relations firms from in-and-around the Mother city were invited to learn more about using the web as an influential industry tool and speak to members of leading online sites, News24 and Women24.
In an informative presentation entitled Web 2.0 PR 2.0 Elan Lohman, News24 publisher, spoke about the Internet usage patterns of today's surfer. Using the world's most famous French-fry "Lincoln Fry" phenomenon as an example, Lohman showed the PR value of an interactive community. He went on to discuss the development of Web 2.0 which allows web citizens to personalize their online world. With websites such as wikipedia.com, a free web encyclopedia edited by its members, and flickr.com, which provides free storage and access to digital pictures exploding in the US, News24 has armed itself to follow suite. With links to interactive television, Channel 59 on DSTV, providing mobile access to breaking news and citizen reporters, the of self publication trend is already evident in South Africa.
Revealing the reading habits of online news seekers, News24 Editor, Bryan Porter, highlighted the need to allow for public response and interaction when pitching a story. Tailoring press releases so that information can be glanced at, linking to background information instead of incorporating it into the release and enticing the reader with catchy headlines and visuals were key tips to reach web users. Porter emphasized the effectiveness of online advertorials. Unlike their glossy cousin, the online version promotes interactivity which allows net-surfers to discover more without the blatant appearance of advertising. He continued with the need to contact the correct content producer and to keep things direct for the sake of immediacy.
With 25 000 news letters going out weekly, Women24 has become an excellent way to reach women internet users. Sam Wilson, editor of the popular women's site found that features articles with interactive elements are able to reach the market most effectively. While women see the process more as information gathering with luxury as a byproduct, there is still room for creativity and fun. Using the Margarita Hunt as an example, Wilson encouraged the PR workforce to use feedback to further communicate to the online audience.
Myriad of opportunities are available in the online world to those who are up to the challenge.