If you’ve any interest in online public relations, you’ve probably heard of the terms “Google juice” and “digital dirt“. But have you taken a deliberate approach, like PRConversations reader, Brandon Carlos to maximise the positive and minimise the negative with your online footprint? If not, why not? Isn’t your own reputation, as a PR professional, the most important asset of your personal brand?
Whilst getting a high ranking on the search engines has created a whole new marketing industry specialising in search engine optimisation, in PR our focus is really the organic aspects of SEO. As Brandon highlights, one approach is to use a blog with regularly updated content to gain more juice. Linking to other blogs, leaving comments and generally networking online can also increase your profile.
We also need to ensure the material we upload onto sites is readily searchable – which will not be the case if we only offer our press releases, reports and presentations as Word, pdf or Powerpoint downloads.
Another aspect of organic SEO that PR practitioners need to understand is how our choice of language reflects the terms (or keywords) used by our publics. Apply this to your personal digital offerings where you need to highlight words that can be picked up by search engines and that best highlight your personal brand character.
A fun, and simple tool, Wordle can even help you create a visual image of the keywords in any piece of text. As well as ensuring that you’ve used the words that people will naturally enter into a search engine, think about terms that you can own – for me that’s greenbanana, which has top Google juice linking to my educational website and personal blog. [I know, shameless self-publicity – but I am making a point here.]
In terms of creating an online reputation, you’d better make sure your blog and other online statements are worth reading or you’ll be creating online hotair that others may criticise and so generate digital dirt.
The negative aspects of being online aren’t restricted to fears over searches revealing photos of our drunken nights out on Facebook – but it is worth reflecting on how we portray ourselves in social networks, whether oriented towards the personal or professional. For the latter, again use keywords in your profile to ensure your brand assets come up in searches.
For the organisations entrusting us with their reputation management, we need to really understand the issue of digital dirt. There are the famous examples of Dell Hell and the Krytonite bike lock. But you can find issues relating to most household – and many small – brands and organisations, often just by typing the name +sucks into Google.
If you Google Crest Pro Health mouthwash – you can’t miss reading about teeth staining problems. If you go onto Amazon to buy the product – most of the comments are negative as are eight of the top 10 tags which customers have given as associations.
What this highlights are how the tendrils of digital dirt are now spreading further and deeper into the online world. Whether it is conversation created in a popular online forum, on blogs or via Twitter, public ratings and feedback or specific anti-sites, there’s a lot of space online for the negative word of mouth to pass unmediated.
Clearly this is a challenge for the traditional models of crisis management so familiar to the PR profession – with the online world adding a new dimension of speed and inter-connectivity to communications. Rumour and untruth spreads much quicker than fact and corporate clarification. Indeed, new models drawing on chaos and complexity theories need to become embedded in PR practice.
Getting involved in managing negative issues online isn’t something that the PR fraternity seems to have mastered yet. Instead, there seems to have been more focus by the social media gurus on the marketing side and creating positive buzz around products with blogger outreach initiatives.
Of course, everyone knows how to set up a Google Alert – which although useful for picking up quickly on search engine chatter – doesn’t get into the depths of sites where real criticism is often taking place.
Having the PR resources to monitor and respond, where appropriate, to negative comments may be difficult to justify – much as crisis management has always found it hard to quantify the cost of keeping a problem out of the media (is that negative AVE?). But at the same time, isn’t crisis management where PR has always gained the highest recognition for our skills?
Of course, genuinely having more friends than foes and ensuring problems aren’t created in the first place is the real key to having a positive online reputation. Which again argues for PR higher up the management chain where counsel can be pre-emptive rather than post-crisis.
The same of course applies to optimising your own reputation online – although hopefully you won’t have created the type of negativity that requires professional crisis management.