Diary: Book review

On-line Public Relations; By David Phillip. Published by Kogan Page. 160 pages.

Online Public Relations deals well with the dynamics of the online world, but lacks practical advice for handling PR on the internet. Any printed material attempting to describe the online world is, in part, doomed to obsolescence from the moment it runs off the press. The medium that it is trying to describe is, in its nature, so ephemeral and fluid, that any permanent signpost will almost instantaneously be invalidated.

The same can thus be said for any book on the practice of online PR - by the time it becomes publicly available, it is already behind the times in terms of the development of PR practice in the online arena.

This is, of course, no fault of the author - the best any person attempting to codify online public relations could hope for would be to mark a point in time in the development of the practice, and David Phillips in many ways achieves this admirably in his book Online Public Relations.

Mr Phillips is a believer in the theory that the internet marks "The Death of Spin", and this book reflects that view. There is a great deal of discussion in the book about the overall dynamics of the online world, and the ethics and structure of online communication, and a lesser focus on the practicalities of undertaking PR programmes online.

While this in part reflects the difficulties mentioned above of describing an evolving process, it does leave one feeling that the book, while giving the reader a fantastic insight into the wired world, is a little short on practical advice on how to undertake an online campaign.

This accepted, Mr Phillips does recognise what I would see as the key aspects of managing reputation online, the hugely increased role of third party, non-media influencers ("ambassadors" in the language of the book).

He talks about the delicacy required when engaging in online communities, the power and reach of online news, and the necessity to engage with the online world competently with its own technologies.

What the book perhaps fails to fully explore is how to tie these disparate strands together to create an overall picture of online reputation management.

An understanding of the big picture of the ways in which reputation on the web flows, from niche newsgroups and personal web sites, through online news and into the mainstream media is vital to the practice of effective online public relations. This news "food chain" sits at the heart of any online PR, and is central to the ways in which one chooses to engage with the online world.

While the book investigates aspects of web reputation management in isolation, by tying them together we could gain a true insight into the way the web can work for us.

All this said, I would recommend this book as essential reading for anyone, agency or client side, who is considering undertaking online reputation management. It provides a comprehensive overview of the issues and dynamics involved, while avoiding the pitfall of seeming excessively prescriptive, and would provide a solid base for the beginner.

Where it is less strong perhaps, would be in its overarching vision of the online world, and this is perhaps best gained where it is most apparent, at the coalface of online PR.

Debbie Wosskow is from Mantra PR in the UK. This book review was first published on Brand Republic's website at brandrepublic.com.

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