Over the past few years we have seen numerous examples of businesses being caught off guard by negative reviews or comments online. Even if your company doesn’t currently have their own social media accounts (more on this later), there are numerous websites such as TripAdvisor and Trustpilot that allow members of the public to comment on your business on the biggest open forum in the world – the web.
Online Public Relations, also known as “Reputation Management”, is therefore starting to play an increasingly important part in companies’ marketing and PR strategies. The speed at which a complaint or negative review can go viral or cause a debate online can be staggering, which is why it’s so important that companies have a dedicated strategy in place.
What is “Online Public Relations”?
Online public relations is much like traditional PR as its main role is to protect your company’s reputation. However, unlike offline PR, online PR focusses on dozens of channels, from social media platforms to news websites and reviews. Online public relations therefore focusses on protecting your company’s reputation online as well as promoting your business in a suitable manner across various channels.
One of the most interesting things about online PR is that it requires skills from a range of specialities, including social media management, SEO, content marketing, copywriting and, of course, traditional PR. In a world where hundreds of reviews and comments can be created in a second, online PR helps keep you on top of your company’s reputation online.
Online PR and Social Media
You may think that an obvious solution to the issue of online PR is to not set up social media accounts for your company in the first place, however this is very wrong. In fact, if enough people are talking about your company on certain social media platforms such as Facebook, they will automatically create a “page” for your business without you knowing. Of course, you can claim this page and therefore address any comments accordingly, however by this point the damage may already have been done.
Avoiding social media in this day and age is practically impossible, and if anything gives a negative impression to both current and potential customers. Some of the most successful businesses in the world use social media to provide customer service and promote themselves as reputable members of their industry. Most customers now expect their suppliers to be available on social media, and by failing to set up or manage an account you could potentially scare them off.
Online PR and Digital Marketing
In one of our previous articles we discussed how Digital PR goes hand-in-hand with SEO and Content Marketing to provide a holistic strategy. If you work in an industry that has certain aspects consumers are concerned about (think insurance, banks, finance etc.), online PR and digital marketing can work together to address these issues and promote your company at the same time. This can be particularly helpful should there be a negative story affecting your industry as a whole, as you can reassure your customers that you understand their concerns.
By being creative you can also help change perceptions of your industry; for example, you could perform research into a controversial topic and address how your company is trying to resolve these issues. Online public relations is therefore a great way to help your company stand out and appeal to your target demographic.
Online Public Relations and Disaster Management
Sometimes, through no fault of your own, you may be accused of poor customer service or a similar issue online. This is where disaster management becomes an essential tool: it ensures that your company deals with any issues quickly and effectively and negates the possibility of negative online conversations getting out of hand.
When starting work with an online PR specialist one of the first things you should agree upon is a disaster recovery plan should anyone post negative comments about your company online. How you respond will all depend on your company, your customer service strategy and any legal requirements set out by your company and/or industry watchdogs. In general, online disaster recovery looks a bit like this:
- Address the issue – find out what led to the customer(s) being dissatisfied and what responsibility you hold.
- In-line with your response strategy, issue the designated response to the customer.
- Liaise with your customer service team to determine how the issue can be addressed. Ideally this will be via private communication.
- Discuss with the relevant teams what led to the issue in the first place, how well the disaster recovery plan worked and what changes need to be put in place to prevent similar issues in the future.
Online public relations requires dedicated monitoring, quick thinking and creativity on a minute-by-minute basis. There are tools that can help companies achieve this, however one of the most important things to remember is that online PR is only successful if you are consistent at all times, regardless of whether you are promoting or protecting your company’s online reputation.