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Why Backtype points to the future of PR

UPDATE (2nd November 2020): This post was written many years ago – and BackType no longer exists. However, the need for such tools has not gone away. One worth looking at today is BrandMentions which offers online brand and media monitoring and reputation management capabilities.

According to Todd Defren: “Excuses for not doing supremely excellent (PR) work are dwindling yet again, thanks to a new service called BackType. BackType lets you “find, follow and share comments from across the web.” Whenever you fill out the “URL” field in a blog’s comment form, BackType tracks it. If you’re pretty prolific online, use BackType to keep tabs on your past conversations. And it goes one better, in terms of Blogger Relations: BackType also allows you to track and subscribe to some of the most influential folks on the Web.”

I agree with Todd that Backtype is yet another free, powerful tool that any decent online PR specialist would be foolish not to use. However, I think Backtype points to a bigger picture.

According to a recent Rubicon Conuslting report: “About 80% of user-generated content on the web, including comments and questions, is created by less than 10% of web users, a group we refer to as the most frequent contributors (MFCs). But despite the low content creation rates, online communities have enormous influence on almost all web users. Online comments and reviews posted by the enthusiasts are second only to word of mouth as a purchase driver for all web users. Those personal reviews are far more influential than official reviews posted by a website or magazine, or information posted online by a manufacturer. This means the old idea of “influencers” is confirmed and explained. The most frequent contributors are the influencers, and they have a strong influence on purchase decisions because they write most of the online recommendations and reviews.” (My emphasis).

Two things to note. First, if PR is about influencing the influencers, then Backtype is another great tool for helping to understand where influence lies. If you look at the people who contribute most frequently, it does read like a roll call of A-list bloggers. So being able to identify not only who contributes most, but also where they contribute (and who in turn may be influenced by these comments) is surely a no-brainer in terms of developing an online influencer strategy.

However, does it not also demonstrate that in order to be an influencer oneself (personally or as a business) then you need to be a contributor. However, simply upping your volume of comments with no thought to where or what you are saying is just spam. But isn’t this the role of social media PR? To help clients make more frequent, more targetted, more informed contributions to the most appropriate online communities? If Rubicon Consulting is right, then those businesses that make the effort to make a greater contribution in terms of content and comment are those that stand to gain most. And surely this is where PR can and should be helping businesses to do just that? To pick up on a recent post by my old colleague Stephen Waddington (whose blog is also a must-read, BTW), PR should be based on a consultancy model. Helping clients to become effective Most Frequent Contributors can only be achieved by a mix of expertise, experience and execution. PR firms that can deliver the right balance of these skills are surely best placed to thrive in the coming years.