Modern society has been hugely impacted by the advent of the internet. The internet has truly become an essential component of varied socio-economic activities.

The use of internet has brought fundamental change to the way businesses are coordinated and managed. Public Relation as a professional discipline is one major field that has been revolutionalised by the internet.

Research has shown that use of the World Wide Web among communication professionals has increased in the last few years, improving productivity and efficiency, two-way communication, research, and issues communication thereby enhancing management role enactment and perceived decision-making power. Most scholars and practitioners agree that the internet provides enormous opportunities for public relations professionals in terms of issues management, relationship management, environmental scanning, story placement and other key professional communications functions.

The internet has transited from static to interactive 2-way communications, moving from Web 1.0 through Web 2.0 into Web 3.0. The Social media is a key pillar of the new generation internet respectively and its core elements comprises social networks platforms and tools such as facebook, youtube, instagram, pinerest, blogging, micro blogging, video sharing etc.

Public Relations measurement expert, Katie Delahaye Paine (2009) argues that companies that do not take social media seriously will soon go out of business.

Blogging, micro blogging, video sharing services and various other types of social networks are bringing people with similar interests together to form virtual communities. Blogging has recently assumed immense relevance among social media networks and online PR tools.

In this paper, I will be discussing how blogging is generally impacting on financial institutions brands. Within this broad topic, I will focus on bloggers relationship with banks.

So, What Is Blog And Blogging?
The term “blogs” is an abbreviation of “weblogs” that Edelman and Intellissek (2005) say are “easily published, personal web sites that serve as sources of commentary, opinion and uncensored, unfiltered sources of information on a variety of topics.” According to Robert J. Key (2005), many weblogs began sporadically as vanity publishing because “anyone with an opinion about anything could create, in a matter of minutes, his or her own web site for publishing news, opinion, commentary and links to other sites”.

The definition given to a blog in Create a blog page of Blogger.com gives a real image of blogging in practice:
“A blog is a personal diary. A daily pulpit. A collaborative space. A political soapbox. A breaking-news outlet. A collection of links. Your own private thoughts. Memos to the world. Your blog is whatever you want it to be. There are millions of them, in all shapes and sizes, and there are no real rules.”

Since the early 1990s, blog pages have gained popularity and it is believed there were 100 million in 2007. Weber (2007) says more than 100,000 new blogs are created every day. He also says 1.3 million posts are added to existing blogs every day.

Indeed, the most popular blogs on the internet do have a readership that rivals small media outlets, and Johnson and Kaye’s survey of readers found that they find blogs to be a credible source of information. Given this new and powerful medium for communicating with the public, it seems logical that public relations professionals would begin experimenting with blogs as a communication tool and commence fostering strategic relationship with bloggers.

There are several types of bloggers, and each one blogs for varied reasons. While majority blog for money, others blog for a chance at fame and some others blog for an advocacy.

Relationship Between Bloggers And Banks:
So Far, How Well Blogs have tremendous potential as tools for online communication, online reputation management and for reaching diverse publics. They provide a unique and personal way for banks to communicate with its current and prospective customers. By talking to people, in a conversational manner,a blog puts a human face on a bank, which is difficult to duplicate in any other way. Blogs are 63% more likely to influence patronage decisions than magazines because they offer bank customers the insight and the access.

So far, Nigerian financial institutions have not effectively and actively utilized blogs and bloggers to build their respective bank brands and create viral marketing stunt for their new and existing products. Marketing communication strategies of most banks do not factor in blogging as a critical component of its online strategy. This has naturally led to over-reliance on traditional communication approaches such as advert and other conventional PR activities as well as below the-line-campaigns.

Bloggers have not made concentrated effort at convincing banks of the value they can create and deliver through blogging. Perhaps these bloggers need to deepen their understanding of the banks marketing goals and articulate clearly, how their blogging activities will impact on such marketing goals and communication strategies.

So far, banks-bloggers relationship is less than mutual and far from robust relative to other traditional media platforms. There is a need for closer and deeper relationship between banks and bloggers, driven by mutual benefits.

Imperative Of Strong Relationship Between Banks And Bloggers
Bloggers want to make money doing what they do, and deserve to do so, while banks want adequate exposure of their products and services in traditional and new media content, and they deserve that, too. What a blogger has that banks want is editorial content which is not something the banks can buy in traditional media channels.

Bloggers want to sell it. Thus, Bloggers need banks to earn a living from their blogs and blogging activities, while banks require bloggers to expose their products, increase their brand awareness and influence buying decision thereby improving profits and sustaining growth.

Blogs provide a channel for reaching a large number of geographically distributed audiences, which in turn increases awareness and boost sales. The idea of accessibility contributes to the humanizing quality of blogs allowing users to relate and rely upon bloggers for inspiration and purchasing behavior. Bloggers who mention a bank product expose their ever-growing audiences to the bank thereby, increasing “search engine optimization and improving traffic to the bank’s websites which are normally packed with information.

An effective blog has the potential to result in banks gaining, on average, a 55% increase in traffic. The more often bloggers post about a bank, the more often Google indexes the bank’s site. Banks corporate communications department should begin to consider the imperative of having a blogger relations officer focusing exclusively on blogger outreach, relating with bloggers and dealing with blogging issues, tracking their impact on sales, among other things to decide which bloggers are invited to the banks events as well as who best to reach out to bloggers for product reviews and exposures.

The imperative of a strong relationship between banks and bloggers is oriented towards key economic and social goals of profit, income, expansion, fame, reputation and competence.

What Does A Blogger Want From A Bank?
Based on my previous experience as Corporate Communications manager of two leading banks in Nigeria, I have identified and itemized five requirements of the bloggers from banks.

These include:
Repeated purchase of banner advert spaces/ banner advertisements and online advertorial contents by banks.
Invitation for bloggers to attend major bank’s events such as product launch, AGMs, media briefings, special events, sponsored events etc.
Be treated as part of the bank media platforms (the New Media) and be included in the bank’s media data base.
To be treated with the same respect the banks would afford a professional journalist. Support/sponsor the bloggers cause and initiatives.

What Does A Bank Want From A Blogger?
Banks typically requires the following from bloggers:
Editorial coverage (not advertorial, which is paid media but earned media that a brand receives from publishing companies because the information was compelling enough for its audience to cover the information).
Help position their brand, activate brand advocacy and create top of mind awareness of their products offering.
Eliminate negative reporting and assist in crisis communications.
Provide extensive coverage of the banks activities and how new products can impact on the society.
Provide adequate coverage of the bank, respond to their pitches, read their press releases or consider covering the bank’s activities.

Focus on how much value they can deliver to the bank brands they work with instead of how much money they can make, as this will translate to a higher quality service, which – in the long run – will result in you being able to command higher fees.

Bloggers should maintain their honesty and authenticity so as not start appearing to be “bought out” thereby losing their audience. Bloggers should not just write about banks and their products, but should insert a link back to the banks website. This will enhance the bank SEO and as a bonus, it makes it easier for viewers to click directly to the bank website. Improving banks Online Reputation Management (ORM): write positively about the bank to help push down negative search result.

Closing Perspective
Blogging is an emerging tool that complements and improves PR and strategic marketing in the banking industry. The most important aspect of the impact blogs have on public relations is blogging made the public more powerful than ever before and organizations started taking opinions of bloggers into consideration.

People are freely discussing matters in blogs related to products, services organizations offer. In powerful blogs which have hundreds of thousands of followers, negative views can have significant consequences even causing crises. It’s simple—blogs are great for business. Hubspot argues that companies that blog get almost twice as many links to their site as companies that don’t.

That is important, because search engines are placing a bigger value than ever on links to company’s domain. The more inbound links an organization has, the better it pages will rank in search engine results—and writing blog posts for your readers to share is a great way to get them.

In the era of digitalization and experience driven economy, financial institutions must forge strategic and profitable relationship with bloggers, and vice-versa, to create influencers and consumers of banking products that are deem as reliable brand advocates and trendsetters.

Customer reliance on social media and honest product/services reviews of banks latest offerings are what drive consumer behaviors. Modern purchasing behaviors in the banking industry start with clear differentiation, messaging and unique value proposition, and mass conversation. These are unique forms of communication that blogs promote.

Thank You Presentation By Kayode Akinyemi, MD/CEO, Powerlight Communications at The First Bankers/Bloggers Conference Held at Ikeja recently.