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Managing Reputation in a Digital World

According to Edward Bernays, the self-acclaimed father of public relations, the three main elements of public relations are as old as society:

  1. Informing people,
  2. Persuading people, or
  3. Integrating people with people.

These elements have the power of persuading people to accept an idea or commodity – without paying someone to say something.

Clearly, the digital era has changed reputation management dramatically with the evolution of social media marketing, reputation management strategies, and SEO.

Social Media Marketing

Yes, social media has had a profound impact on the world of public relations. This is especially true in the blogosphere where influencers and advocates can greatly benefit your social impact. But who are the true influencers and advocates?

–       Advocates: Defined as highly satisfied customers who help their friends by recommending a brand, 92 percent of customers trust brand advocates according to Nielsen. Typically, brands don’t need to incentivize these people because of their long lasting advocacy and passion for the product or service offered.

–       Influencers: Influencers are much different than advocates. They are pundits, bloggers, and celebrities that have a massive audience size. Their motivation is to increase the size of their audience quickly while acquiring some type of incentive from the brand. Common incentives include free products, trials before launch, and more.

Viral marketing also has had a significant impact in how social media marketing ties in with public relations. For example, if you want to spread word-of-mouth about a new product in an interesting, creative way, today there are a few options: post a captivating article, offer a fancy gadget, create a short video, or do something truly bizarre. Whatever your choice, the aforementioned advocates and influencers should be identified and solicited for passing along your content to their connections, who will in turn share their post.

Online Reputation

Certainly you must not only have a positive image offline, but on review sites, directories, and social media sites as well. It’s 2013 – people are creating context surrounding your brand, and you need to engage them whether their conversations are positive or negative. Both instances of engagement can increase customer satisfaction and the public’s relationship with your company.

Psychology also plays an enormous role in reputation management, and social proof is one of the most powerful ways of changing the perceptions of your brand and its relationship with the public. Put simply, people will mirror the things that they see other people doing. Just look in your local supermarket. Ever see someone put something in his or her cart, and after seeing this, you pick up the same item and decide to purchase? That’s the power of social proof right in your very own supermarket.

Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) has come a long way since the days of changing meta-data in order to boost rankings. Now, SEOs must focus the majority of their efforts on content creation and online public relations.

Content creation and marketing are great ways to capture the attention of your audience, but deftly building and leveraging relationships with publishers both on and offline. But, before engaging, you must truly know the audience that an outlet caters to. It is imperative that you craft the content and personalize the pitch to align with that understanding. The bottom line: if you’re pitch doesn’t deliver value to the publisher, it’s worthless.

For instance, if you’re a retailer that sells fishing equipment, you could target an infographic detailing fishing lures to WorldFishingNetwork.com. Perhaps you may even give them exclusivity to the infographic for a month or two before soliciting other industry related publications.

The public relations’ side of search engine optimization mostly consists of getting inbound links from these highly authoritative, relevant industry publications. In the above example, it’d be great to get links from WorldFishingNetwork.com that point to your homepage and your page specific to fishing lures. Search engines like Google view links to your site as votes for your site. The more authoritative and relevant the linking site, the more your rankings are boosted.

Where We’re Headed

The most important areas of reputation management have been the subjects of great debate within the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), which is spending significant effort focusing on issues like globalization, social changes, platforms, channels, and advertising.

The reality is that reputation management will only evolve as a means of changing the perceptions of consumers – particularly for small and mid-size local or regional companies looking to extend their reach.

Just think of the big picture where much of the Internet is limited to other parts of the world. Can you imagine the opportunity for growth as the world becomes more integrated through the Internet?

Without question.

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