Web 2.0 is a term said to be coined by Tim O'Reilly. It refers to a perceived second generation of Web-based communities and hosted services — such as blogging, social media, wikis, and other online tools which facilitate collaboration and sharing between users. O'Reilly Media titled a series of conferences around the phrase, and it has since become widely adopted.

Originally, the World Wide Web was considered just another medium to communicate traditional information. You could read the same news articles that were in print publications, you could see the same branded, one-dimensional ads that were available in print media, and Web sites were all glorified brochures (which communication industry folks coined brochureware). Further, television and radio stations were merely promoting their lineup and schedules online.

But then with the new millennium, the entire landscape changed. Television programs such as news and reality shows began driving traffic to their Web sites. News anchors started blogging. Commercials could be skipped with Tivo and other DVRs. And people began networking online instead of meeting in public.

Here are some simple ways you can get your business noticed more quickly and frequently online. 

Register your office address in Google Maps
Go to the Local Business Center of Google Maps on the Internet. Create a free account with Google and then follow the user-friendly steps to register your company. This will allow you to come up in the map listings when someone searches for you product or services in the Greater Philadelphia region.  

Create a profile for your event on MySpace or Facebook
The advances in how we use the Web didn't stop with business applications; perhaps the most obvious and headline-grabbing changes took place with the launch of sites like MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, Orkut, Hi5, Friendster, Match, and other "social networking" Web sites. In fact, reports indicated that by 2007 more than 100 million people worldwide were logging onto these virtual meeting places. These online communities (and there are hundreds of them) permit members to share personal information and meet others with similar interests so they can become "friends." They are usually free to join, and users can search for other members and contact them by leaving comments on their profile pages or through e-mail, instant messaging, chat rooms or discussion boards. I'm not fond of creating my own personal professional profile on these sites, however, you can create profiles for special events and become "friends" with other people who have an interest in your subject matter.  It's a great way to spread the word and to generate more traffic to your Web site. 

Serve as a Wikipedia contributor
A wiki is an open-forum Web site that allows people to collaborate and provide information on particular areas of interest.  Most wikis can be accessed and edited by anyone.  Wikipedia is the leading free encyclopedia, allowing “anyone [to] edit almost any page,” according to the Wikipedia Web site. Anything you add can be edited by others. If you’re going to provide content, be impartial and unbiased, include all sides of the story, and don’t ever try to hide anything – if you do, you’ll likely be called on the carpet. 

Create and manage your own blog
You've undoubtedly heard about "blogs" and "blogging," but for the uninitiated, "blog" is short for "Web log." A blog is a journal that is frequently updated and intended for general public consumption. It is a way to encourage two-way conversation between the author and contributors, and those who wish to comment. A blog generally represents the personality of the author, company or Web site that launched it.

Blogs are great tools for you to establish yourself as a leader in your industry. They should be used to have online discussions with target audiences including prospective clients and the media. Your blog needs to be yours. It should reflect your voice and thoughts.  Blogging is also a great way to converse with members of the media.  When you comment on media blogs or publish your own blog entries regarding the media and what they've said, you are creating a relationship and getting yourself on their radar screens.  Some reporters today are also writing blogs. Their content may or may not be included in the print version of their newspaper or magazines, or on their television programs or radio shows. But it is, in fact, being included on the Web and as Web 2.0 continues to grow, PR practitioners and media savvy businesses must add blog journalists to their lists of VIP media.

Once you're convinced that you need a blog as part of your public relations plan, you need to figure out how you're going to create it.  You have two choices:  1) create the blog yourself using one of the free sources on the Web, or 2) reach out to a professional to create the blog for you.  There are pros and cons to both approaches.  If you decide to go it alone, some free blog sources include Blogger, TypePad, Wordpress, and Movable Type (open source software). My advice is that it's easier and more cost effective in the long run to seek the professional services of a firm that specializes in creating blogs.

Get Really Simple Syndication
Really Simple Syndication or "RSS" is a technology that allows users to subscribe to news feeds, blogs, Web sites and other interactive online media to receive direct feeds to a "news aggregator." The news aggregator is similar to a mailbox or an e-mail inbox.  It's a tool that Internet users can utilize to manage "RSS Feeds" in order to receive updates from the sources that they value most.

There are many news aggregators including Yahoo, Google and NewsGator Online, that send updates to subscribers when their selected sites add new content or when a news story or blog post includes their chosen keywords.  In this way, RSS and news aggregators can be used to distribute your latest information to your target audiences. Similarly, you can use these applications to stay current in your industry.

RSS has many public relations benefits.  It can be used to track news about you, your company, your competitors and your clients. It can be used to stay on top of industry trends and research. And it can be used to monitor your favorite reporters, publications, media outlets and editors to stay on top of their news preferences and styles.

Get LinkedIn
Unlike the networking luncheon, virtual networking has a life all its own.  There's no need to worry about your physical appearance, you don't have to bring your business cards, and you don't have to prepare your 30-second introduction.

Virtual networking is like speed dating on steroids. You can be anywhere – no one knows and it really doesn't matter as long as you have an Internet connection. You type information about yourself on one end and within nanoseconds, it is published on the World Wide Web for anyone to access.

Virtual networking comes in many forms. It can mean a social membership on MySpace, contributing regular dialog to a ListServ, or engaging in professional networking through sites such as LinkedIn, Ryze, BizWiz, Twitter, or Spoke.  Social networking sites are also helpful because they demonstrate who you know, who you may know through affiliation, and who knows someone you might want to know. LinkedIn, Spoke, and other similar sites illustrate the "six degrees of separation" concept that everyone is connected by a chain of six people or fewer.

Get Craiging
Craigslist.org is a free local community of classified advertisements and Internet forums in a relatively non-commercial environment. This popular chain of Web sites started in San Francisco in 1995 and now boasts more than 5 billion page views per month.  With 15 million users as of September 2007, the site ranks number seven in use, trailing only Yahoo!, AOL, Microsoft, Google, eBay, and News Corp.  Postings are divided by state, city, country, and many other topics.

Here's how you can put Craigslist to work for you:

  • Include calendar listings for special events
  • Post a listing of your speaking engagements with a headshot
  • Invite the community to your company's open house
  • Post job openings at your company
  • Announce new hires, promotions and industry awards
  • Post calls for awards applicants

Most postings on Craigslist have a short lifespan - about one month.  So if you want to maintain visibility on the site, be sure to post often and update your previous posts regularly.  However, do not post the same listing in more than one city or you’ll be banned from the list.  As an alternative, rewrite your posting with information and an angle that is relevant to a different city and then post it – but be careful when doing so.  You can keep track of your postings by creating a free user account on Craigslist. 

Changing at the Speed of Light
Each and every day, there is something new to be learned about the use of electronic communications.  There are new resources, social media outlets, directory listings, blogs, e-zines, and other tools.  The time has come for business owners to embrace social media, to learn how to use it strategically, and to understand that the future buyers of our products and services are already on board. As Web 2.0 takes deep root in mainstream media, it’s time to employ it early and often in your everyday public relations efforts.

About the Author
Gina Rubel is the President/CEO of Furia Rubel Communications (www.furiarubel.com) in Doylestown, Pa., which does public relations work in the legal, professional service, education and nonprofit industries. She is a strategic planning expert, attorney, publicist and client advocate.  Gina teaches PR programs to professionals, corporations and universities. She will be a featured guest speaker for the 2007 Public Relations Society of America International Convention in Philadelphia in October 2007. Her latest book, Everyday Public Relations for Lawyers, is due out later this fall.