By Nicholas Beeson, Marketing Associate at Buzzwords Manchester
PR is one of the most important elements of the marketing mix. It’s all about building positive relations with your company’s customers through publicity that builds a positive image around the company.
PR is even more important online. On the negative side, rumours and stories about companies can spread like wild-fire, damaging reputations and credibility in double-quick time. On the positive side, customer feedback can be invaluable in gaining an understanding of what the market is really thinking about your company, its products and services.
Internet marketing author and blogger Dave Chaffey gives a good description of Online PR: “Online PR is about maximising favourable mentions of your company, brands, products or web sites on third-party websites which are likely to be visited by your target audience. Online PR can also be used to support viral or word-of-mouth marketing activities in other media.”
Overall, Online PR boils down to two key things: raising the online profile of a business and managing the online reputation of a business.
Although the Internet has allowed companies to monitor and influence online conversations, it can also present them with a new set of problems. In particular, the complete freedom of speech that is possible online has worked against many companies.
The Internet is to a large extent uncontrolled. In principle, anyone can say or show anything. Much of the material that reaches the public no longer passes through traditional gatekeepers such as newspaper editors, radio or television producers. The result is both freedom of speech and distribution of unreliable, unconfirmed and often untrue information. This can be a threat – but also an opportunity – for PR practitioners.
An example of this lawlessness on the Internet was seen with the recent BP oil disaster. The social media site “Twitter”, saw 1 million conversations about BP. Of these conversations, 59% were deemed to be negative towards BP. This absolute freedom of speech can be damaging to companies, which further underlines the importance of Online PR and having a fall-back strategy in place. Communicating with online communities and PR ‘publics’ is vital as it raises the company profile as well as maintaining the reputation of the company or brand.
Social media is of course at the heart of the Online PR frenzy. Blogging and online news releases are other inter-related techniques used by companies to promote themselves online. The Digibuzz blog talks about the importance of online press releases;
“In a significant report, titled ‘Search Marketing Benchmark Guide’, MarketingSherpa reported that online press releases, combined with organic search engine optimization, are among the most effective Internet marketing strategies.”
In its aims and effects, Online PR is not hugely different to offline PR. The principles are the same but the channels are different. Nowadays, Online PR and reputation management are a crucial part of any digital marketing plan. Online conversations constantly need to be monitored to pre-empt any negative feedback. Whilst Online PR raises a company’s profile, wherever possible it also needs to be carefully managed to protect the online image and reputation of a company.