THE NEED FOR WEBSITE AND INTERNET IN PUPLIC RELATIONS NETWORKING
Paper presented by Mr. Tunji Odelola (Managing Director, Epidata Consulting Limited) at the 2001 National Public Relations Conference on April 26, 2001 a
The Concorde Hotel, Owerri.
The need for Website and Internet in public relations networking cannot be overemphasised in the current world economy. The Internet is probably the most popular tool used by man presently. It is used in academic research, medical science, business and commerce to mention a few, in fact in a few years it has evolved into an indispensable tool for practically areas of human endeavour. It is a great source of information and access to goods and services world wide thus becoming an indispensable marketing tool for the smart P.R practitioner .
With the Internet also came the advent electronic mail through which letters, pictures and even movies can be sent across the world in seconds in real time at an almost insignificant cost. The Internet has gone a long way in making the world a global village; we can receive actual footage in real time of news and information can no longer be restricted by government legislation and limitations .
The Internet used to be considered difficult and complex for the laymen to understand and utilize, but with the advent of user-friendly Internet tools and the now –commonplace accessibility of the Internet through personal computers, the Internet has become much more accessible to the public .
Public Relations and the Internet have become closely interwoven over the years, a lot of companies has become overnight successes through the Internet, whilst a lot of companies have also been destroyed through Internet. Since public relations is not just adverting or marketing, but the management of a company’s image through communication, building reputation, developing relationships, creating a positive image, informing and persuading people, the Internet is thus an indispensable tool for effective public relations.
A major area of Public Relations in which the Internet and website are quire indispensable is effective communication and media relations . Maintaining effective two-way communication with the external public of our organization is a function we cannot afford to play with. A lot of media organisations internationally have their own websites, which they use as effective as their mainline media, i.e. T.V., Radio, Newspaper. For instance CNN’s website cnn.com is one of the most visited websites on the Internet with over 50million visitors daily! The power and impact of the Internet in Media relations is critical in the new technological dispensation of the millennium . A lot of media houses in Nigeria, we can proudly say also have websites which are updated daily from which we can download news and information from dailies. In most cases, feedback is almost immediate on information dissemination, which is a great tool in the hands of the P.R. manager. Apart from electronic mail, there are also chat rooms available on the Internet in which an interview can be conducted with as much as a phone –in – talk. Q & A, a popular programme on CNN demonstrates this impact on us world-wide.
ALUMNI RELATION/UNIVERSITY ADMINISTRATION
The Internet and website is a very useful tool for the shrewd university administrator, especially with regards to alumni relations. The Imperial College, London has a website dedicated to their alumni association called IC4life. The website contains information on the alumnus including e-mail addresses from which they can directly contact each other and latest news on the college and related news. This trend is not limited to Imperial College alone as a lot of colleges and institutions abroad have their own websites for alumni relations.
The Internet contains different websites that provide valuable information on different organizations, companies, individuals, and bodies which will be of benefit to investors . In addition there are a lot of websites where aggrieved customers, clients or even competitors can disseminate damaging information about our organizations. The P.R. practitioners must of necessity monitor customer trends and complaints via the Internet in order to remain current and also to provide effective services to our clients .
The Internet has made the world a global village. During the last US presidential elections, the whole world and even those of us in Nigeria were privileged to watch events as they unfolded all over the U.S. In addition, we were also opportune to contribute our own quota via chat rooms and opinion polls on the Internet. The P.R. practitioner in International relations will be left behind if he or she does not utilise the Internet efficiently .
ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY, TRAVEL, AND TOURISM
The entertainment industry has been greatly impacted by the Internet revolution. The World Wide Web (www) is more focused towards the entertainment industry than probably any other industry today. Films, Music, Art, Fashion and other forms of entertainment are available online. A lot of entertainment companies have their own websites where they advertise and market their goods and services. The P.R. practitioners in the entertainment industry can take advantage of this great tool for networking firstly by retrieving information from websites of other companies and firms offering related or required services and contact them by email to establish a relationship with them.
For those in tourism, tours and holidays can be arranged via websites of tour organisations in different tourist sites and locations all over the world. In fact some of these organisations have virtual tours (a tour you take on the computer via video recordings) of the holiday spot. Hotel accommodation, e.t.c such that you can actually see what your room will look like before you book for the trip!
We can only neglect this great resource to our own disadvantage, our clients and their customers need this tool, and we need to pay attention to this tool, primarily for our own benefit and secondarily also for our clients. The different areas of public relations will adapt the Internets and website to their own peculiar field, but the basic technology is the same.
The reason for our apathy is not far fetched. Internet access to most Nigerians has been limited due to the poor infrastructure in the nation especially in power generation and telecommunications. However, in spite of this, awareness is increasing especially with the establishment of more Internet Service Provider (ISPs) and cyber cafes all over the nation. In addition, the telecommunications industry in the nation is about to experience a great boost with the GSM companies offering mobile services. What do we need to do: take advantage of these great resources and not be left behind? As we take the leap into cyberspace. We need to consider the following:
We need to train our staff and ourselves how to use the Internet and electronics mail. This is vital, as anyone who cannot do this successfully will be an illiterate within the next five years. There was the true story of a Nigerian professor on a sabbatical in university abroad. After resuming for work, he met his colleagues within the campus who enquired if he got their messages to which he always denied. He eventually queried the departmental secretary for her negligence of duty: she however pointed to the professor that his messages were on his computer as his colleagues communicate mainly in electronic mail and not paper!
Networking with the other PR firms will be easier using the Internet and electronic mail. Infact we will be able to register and join international associations, be informed of conferences and fellowships available internationally 
This will enable us to get access to information and other vital resources on the Internet for our firms and our clients. Research and preparation of proposal and projects will be much easier as we will not bother to re-invent the wheel; rather we will start from where others are currently 
It is also imperative that we begin to consider registering and having our own websites with our company name and our clients as domain names to make an impact on the Internet. There are lot of companies and I.T professional in Nigeria that can build, host and administer website at affordable rates. Corporate and individual presence is affected on the Internet through websites: if a company is savvy enough in the design of its websites. It can make information about its services or products readily available to the public. Companies without websites or easily available product information can often get overlooked out of inconvenience.
This is vital for PR firms in particular, it was unfortunate that before this conference, I searched for PR. firms in Nigeria on the Internet and the results were poor. In fact the institute should have a website: nipr.org or nigeriapublicrelations.org which should have a directory of all PR firms and professionals in Nigeria. This will help if an organization is looking for Nigerian firms or professionals to network with on a particular project or even to exchange ideas and concepts.
However, we must think before we leap, there ‘s an extremely high percentage of useless information out there that is to no one’s advantages, to many people are doing things with the web just because they can, and not because they should. The web too often has become an end and not a means. We should aim for lasting, long-term effects when developing an Internet presence. If it does not carry substance, it ‘s not going to be worth your time or anyone else’s.
The Internet has generally made the work of public relations professional easier. They can reach more people more quickly with the use of e-mail lists, Usenet and websites. They can interact with public relations colleagues a little easier through a variety of mailing list forums.
While it has made it easier to reach more people. The Internet has also splintered audiences. Mass communication is falling by the wayside in favour of very targeted communication strategies. One public relations expert called this segmentation the “narrowing of the audience demographic to one”.
More and more companies will join the online world –at this point the ones who have not yet established a presence on the web are truly the die-hards. Corporate websites will become more integrated with other communication activities – more and more television commercial will end with names of websites.
However, it is not too late for us to enter and take full advantages of the Internet revolution. I believe that this is the reason why we the focus of this conference is on information technology, the Nigeria institute of public relations will make its impacts on the World Wide Web. The institutes and it’s member will be trained on adapting information technology for public relations and have their own Webster as the millennium unfolds thus positioning Nigeria in the forefront of PR practice internationally.
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