A meteorite is streaking through the Webosphere, and it’s enabling online users to ignite new relationships in new ways with greater impact. Over the past several years, technology has allowed people to reach one another in a more efficient manner than every before. Web sites and blogs, such as engadget and The Smoking Gun, can release breaking news to a captive audience of thousands—millions, in some instances—long before it’s published in a newspaper or even before its broadcast on traditional radio or TV newscasts. These “emerging channels of communication,” or ECCs, include Web sites, forums, blogs, wikis and podcasting, among other formats. A number of public relations campaigns to gain top-of-mind awareness illustrate the effectiveness of ECCs, including the launch of Toyota’s Scion and the continued momentum of its non-traditional approach to marketing, as well as the iPod and the growth of podcasting and even videocasting.

How is the business community responding to this phenomenon? Savvy corporations are rapidly producing their own podcasts, top corporate officers and marketing executives are creating their own blogs, and more are responding to questions in forums on their own Web sites. Often for the first time, consumers have a direct relationship and dialog with top officers of corporations who, in following the essential rules of conduct in their communications, are making certain they are truthful and are not criticizing the competition.

Moreover, blogs have become a way for product developers to poll their user community to gauge reactions to features they plan to introduce long before they actually create and test the product. Blogs and other ECCs serve as what amounts to a virtual trial balloon to gain feedback on the merits of proposed products, services or activities before launching them.

And how are public relations professionals addressing ECCs? Passive activity could result in a negative backlash that may develop into a crisis situation. At the bare minimum, ECCs should be monitored. In a proactive situation, target ECCs should be strategically identified to match the objectives of a campaign and should be treated with an approach similar to conducting a media briefing. Don’t assume that, because these organizations are “grass roots” in nature, their members will not behave like traditional journalists. In fact, most writers/contributors to blogs are professional journalists with their own regular columns.

Increasingly ECC’s are becoming the points where news is debated and issues flare. All of us should be warming up to the opportunities they present.

What is your familiarity with ECCs?
1. Know of them?
2. Know of them and monitor / read them?
3. Post and reply to messages / threads?
4. Author / owner?
Share your thoughts here…

— Chris Yoon