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Future of Online PR and Reputation Management

Posted on Jun 26th, 2007
Written by Lee Odden
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    For this post I am using for inspiration (with attribution) a recent post headline from Steve Rubel, “The Future of PR is Participation, Not Pitching“. As with most “this tactic is dead” posts, I think the reality is that while pitching the media as we know it today is in decline, it will always provide value as a method of communicating story ideas to journalists. It’s the method or technology that will change such as pitching with or RSS rather than a phone call.

    After speaking about various aspects of marketing and PR through social media at a search marketing, public relations and a direct marketing conference in the past 2 months, I can see there’s no doubt the “participatory web” is hot on the minds of many company marketers, agencies and vendors that serve this market.

    Which brings me to a series of questions Andy Beal recently asked me in regard to a book he’s writing on reputation management. They were great questions and the topics are not only relevant to managing a reputation online, but also resonate well with how online PR, search and social marketing are changing in accordance with shifts in how people create, consume, re-purpose and share information.

    It really is a matter of no longer having control over your message or brand and more about the importance of participating in the dialogue.

    Changes in Public Relations in an Online World:
    Many Public Relations practitioners are scrambling to adjust to the opportunities presented by shifts in consumer behavior online. After speaking at the largest media relations conference in the world recently, (Media Relations Summit), I’ve seen firsthand how the PR industry is making a concerted effort to educate itself about new PR channels such as search engine marketing and marketing with social media.

    Some PR agencies have been able to fully embrace these shifts at their core, and not only become successfully involved with online communities but have been instrumental at facilitating PR’s role in the various online channels such as social networking, blogs and search. These agencies are best prepared to represent brands in a win win situation over those firms that skim social media with tactics and without a full understanding of the medium. The work of Chris Heuer, Todd Defren, Brian Solis and our own PR practice come to mind.

    Not fully understanding social media communities for example, has resulted in brand damage rather than audience engagement. Look no further than the various brand embarrassments as a result of fake blogs, user accounts on social news sites and fake social network participation. In a way, the way to effectively get covered in an online media world is to become the media, ie, embrace the online culture of user generated media. Participation and transparency are the lighthouses for an online PR future.

    Emerging Online PR Tactics:
    Email and smile/dial pitching as we know it may be on the way out, but journalists will always benefit from reputable sources and being presented with great story ideas relevant to their audiences.

    Technology has increasingly provided PR practitioners with tools to make it easier for journalists and the media to cover their clients’ news. RSS and blogs for example, provide excellent channels as well as the social bookmarking of concentrated clusters of information. The social media news release attempts to achieve this effect, but has yet to be accepted as a standard format.

    When establishing a relationship with a particular publication or journalist, including links to short podcast and video interviews in email pitches have proven productive in that they provide examples of what it might be like to interview executives relevant to company news and provide sound bites. Subsequently hosting these various media using blog software in the form of an online media room makes the content discoverable on its own via traditional search as well as social media channels.

    However, regardless of effective technology is for communications, there is no substitute for human contact whether it’s in person or via phone. In the end, technology can only facilitate what’s been important for the media since day one of the PR business: Find reliable sources and interesting story ideas that help the publication serve it’s readership and advertisers.

    Media Training, Blogger Relations and Spin:

    Since we’re running both a search marketing agency and a public relations firm, we’ve always counseled our clients on the use of targeted keywords during interviews and in communications with the media. These are the keywords we’ve optimized their content for. When the interviews or articles are published on or offline, many readers will remember the topic after reading, but not the names of the companies mentioned. We’ve found that it’s fairly common that readers go to Google and search the topic of the article whereupon our clients have prominent visibility in the search results.

    Blogger relations is a slippery slope when approached with traditional media relations tactics. Most bloggers have no use for a typical email pitch. For successful blogger relations, more effort must be undertaken into qualifying bloggers to determine their degree of influence and what’s important to them as well as their readers. Pitching is customized and personal by default, not as an exception.

    Most PR professionals grew up in the industry on spin so it takes a bit of re-training to get tenured staff in the habit of participation and transparency. Blogger relations is a never ending task of practice and refinement. PR is still about persuasion though, so there will always be some aspect of the pitching effort designed for a particular messaging outcome. That’s not spin as we know it today, but it is still a sale to be made.

    Crisis Communications Has Changed:

    In the past, PR professionals could call their contacts within the media to keep a negative story from getting coverage. With more and more editorial decisions in the hands of user generated content, there’s nothing any company or PR professional can do to stop negative news from being posted, ranted, commented and spread.

    Todays participatory web requires companies to be involved with online communities in order to gain any kind of foothold on what’s being said and discussed about their brands. The notion that, “Conversations are happening with or without you, so get involved or get left behind”, rings true for brands and PR as well as for advertising and marketing.

    Brands need to be monitored continuously and when dissention is detected, it must be qualified and responded to quickly. Corporate PR and communications need to allocate ongoing resources to this end in proportion to the value of their brand equity. The bigger the brand, the more you have to lose by not paying attention to what social communities and the blogosphere is saying.

    Additional resources on reputation management online:

    Reputation Management – Wikipedia
    Basics of Reputation Management – TopRank
    Online Reputation Monitoring & Management Beginners Guide – Marketing Pilgrim