Understanding online public relations
Google – judge and jury
The rapid growth of social marketing, compounded by increasingly sophisticated search habits, has big implications for how you manage your brand and reputation online. Every transaction begins with a search: Google is usually the first port of call for anyone considering a business or personal prospect, followed closely behind by a trawl through Twitter’s search engine.
A prospective transaction can sometimes end there too: Google’s own study into how business-to-business (B2B) companies are researched found that more than half of buying decisions were taken before a face-to-face meeting had occurred. An unflattering headline or ill-considered tweet can derail a potential piece of business or, worse still, sow the seeds of poor brand reputation, whether justified or not.
This shift is why I will use this chapter to set out the tried-and-tested rules of PR and reputation management, and then highlight the ways you need to adapt your approach in the age of social. To help you cut through the clutter created by the rapid momentum of technological and media change, you’ll be reminded of PR’s time-honoured truths as well as the significant developments that can make the internet work for you, not against. I’ll finish by asking PR’s great and good to give their one tip for online PR and reputation management success.
Online – it’s where PR lives now
Some might say the term ‘online PR’ is already outdated – that online PR and reputation management are one and the same thing – in the same way that the terms ‘social media’ and ‘digital’ are now interchangeable.
The continued consumer migration to digital channels requires your business to change not just the channels it uses, but the way it promotes itself and protects its image. While event-driven, one-off campaigns still have their place, the emphasis now is on continuous story-telling that contains multiple narratives: in other words, strategic, content-led online reputation management should be central to any PR you undertake.
Start with strategy and an understanding of your audience
It would be foolish, not to mention costly and time-wasting, to embark on PR without having established your goals for such activity. Perhaps it is bigpicture stuff about positioning your brand in a certain market, or at a more micro level, the launch of a new sub-brand product or service. Whatever your goals, PR should always support your company’s wider marketing efforts.
If marketing hasn’t done this already, start by doing an internal audit to identify core strengths as well as vulnerabilities, and messages you want to consistently deliver. If your business has a consumer insight function, use the information they have collated in order to create an audience profile.
Know the influencers, understand their pressures, gain their trust
The stakeholders who have always formed and assessed reputations – journalists, customers, prospects, investors, and financiers – are still the group you must seek to influence. These days you need to do so online as well as through traditional channels.
It takes a special occasion for Royal Mail to issue commemorative stamps and the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games were just that. The ambitious task that Royal Mail set itself was to celebrate each and every gold winner with their own stamp, printed the night of their win and delivered to post offices the next day. The PR challenge was to put Royal Mail – which was a licensee of the Games, not a sponsor – at the heart of the greatest sporting show on earth in a credible and relevant way that would resonate nationally, and perhaps even overseas. The campaign also needed to remind consumers of Royal Mail’s position in local communities and, of course, to promote sales of the stamps themselves.