The New PR: Reputation Management Online
The Internet: giving the Average Joe the power to weigh in on your brand. Like it or not, the Internet is now one of the most powerful public opinion tools available. Never before has word of mouth had so much impact as quickly as it does online. That means, as businesses, we must respond faster than ever before.
The thing we have to remember about public relations, online or not, is that it’s public relations. Traditional PR by trade focuses on maintaining a company’s relationship with its various publics, much different than marketing and advertising. Publics by definition of traditional PR is people who hold some stake in your company. Think employees, stockholders, consumers, community groups and so on.
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And over the years, thanks to people who believe that public relations is a management function, the profession has developed into something much more than just propaganda and the ability to sway public opinion. PR, by trade, is based on research and methodologies that aim to upkeep the relationship between a business and its various publics.
But with the Wild West that is currently the Internet, where does traditional public relations fit into it all? It used to be PR was all about pushing information through the gatekeepers: the journalists and mainstream media. It was a dissemination of info to the public, with little interaction. Now anyone can weigh in any time they’d like online. And the effect it’s having on brands and their publics is mind blowing.
PR in the New Paradigm
The global information age has forced PR to conform to changing technology, identifying new strategies to deal with the interconnectedness in communications and the rate that information spreads. But what’s insane is how drastically the Internet is changing the way we practice PR.
When I studied PR at San Diego State University in the early to mid-2000s, the Internet was a mere mention in our curriculum. No one foresaw the impact it could have and the way it would change the face of PR forever.
With online tools and search tactics developed and refined every day, we face a new way to deal with public opinion online. We now have the capacity to identify where people are talking about our brand and respond accordingly, directly to those who matter.
We also have the ability to manipulate search results to drown out negative commentary, if we choose to do so. And it’s not necessarily an unacceptable practice in the search space because companies are doing everything they can to get both sides of the story out in an effort to manage overwhelming public opinion online.
Interestingly enough, the recent algorithm update by Google favors pages from a company’s domain on the SERP in a brand-related search. That means, a search on say, BP, would have multiple pages from BP’s domain, pushing the potentially negative feedback from outside domains to the back pages.
Still, online reputation management will be needed for the many communities that people engage in each day, where the same negative feedback can be shared.
But the question is: How can we marry traditional PR with our online efforts?
Online Reputation Management Strategy
There are so many tools at our fingertips nowadays that give us great opportunity to identify potential public relations problems online. But those tools should just be part of a greater PR strategy. Sure, social media and reputation management tools are integral, but after you get a bird’s eye view of public opinion and before you even communicate, the most important thing to consider is your strategy.
And it’s not necessarily about ensuring your online reputation is pristine; it’s about how you react to situations and engage with your publics. People mess up, corporations mess up, but how they handle it speaks volumes.
The traditional PR strategy model can still apply to your online efforts:
- Define the problem
- Plan the strategy
- Take action/communicate
- Evaluate through assessment
But let’s briefly talk tools of the trade, because it’s these tools that are changing the way we practice public relations.
Online reputation management tools are a great place to start to identify where your brand is talked about and where your public is. Even if you think you already know where your business is receiving buzz, you might be surprised with a little research. Tools like the soon-to-be-launched RepOptimizer™ from Bruce Clay, Inc. can help you identify exactly where people are talking about your brand online.
Then there’s social media and review sites, the ultimate PR communications tool. They allow you to respond to your publics in real-time – something that before was only facilitated through press releases, press conferences and the like, all of which didn’t offer the personal element social media allows. If used correctly, you can build loyalty and personal relationships with your publics like never before.
Developing PR Best Practices for Online Interaction
Businesses and publics online are replacing the traditional journalist role in the dissemination of information. Only this time, it’s not objective. But it’s our duty as businesses to carry on the role of traditional PR to serve our publics and solve problems that arise between our business and its community. Like any relationship in life, you have to work at it.
One of the side effects of public relations over the years is that a company improved its practices (whether they wanted to or not) to gain approval by its publics. Will public relations continue to have that affect on business in the new online paradigm, or will we bundle PR with the same search strategies we use to market our businesses online?
PR spent many years trying to separate itself from marketing and advertising in the traditional business world; now, online, it’s almost as if we’re going back to the drawing board. But if the practice of PR is to endure, its tried and true methodologies must adapt to mediums, and businesses must continue to view it as a crucial element in survival.
For more information on our RepOptimizer™ tool, coming very soon, contact Bruce Clay, Inc. at 866.517.1900 (USA).