This is a conversation that has been going on for a while. PR’s (as perceived guardians of the brand) often feel that they are best placed to position themselves as online guardians as well. SEO’s as guardians of much that is content and search results see themselves as best placed to exploit – and more recently the social media element have placed their cards on the table as best placed to manage clients through these oft murky waters.
This has been a hot topic before with organisations such as Wolfstar and Edelman offering their thoughts and insight into where brand reputations management should lie – however I would add that both may have softened those perspectives in recent years (well the former anyhow). That said I would suggest this is still often a battle I see played out every day in the corporate environment, where we often see many organisations put profit before client needs and requirements.
The answer to much of this lies in an integrated response bringing the core skills of each channel to the table. Gone are the days when a single channel should and is responsible for one part of a clients requirements. Online often means integration, and this often means working with other channels and skillsets. Modern day SEO in particular comprises many elements of other channel media within its framework such as video optimisation, online pr distribution and guest posts – much of which from an offline perspective may have fallen into very different boxes such as TV and PR.
The Battle Over Brand Management
Certainly I would suggest PR still has a very important part to play in the online brand reputation stakes as tone of voice can always will be an important weapon in understanding and responding to particularly issues. However traditionally PR has always approached online with a degree of trepidation and often err significantly on the side of caution. This is where social media with a rich understanding of the online space can come into vogue. Key metrics such as influence can be utilised here to most effectively respond to any potential issues that could come a brands way.
However, we have to remember that not much happens without the prying eye of Google seeing what is going on, and much of this can and does end up back in the search engine results. With the wrong type of wind prevailing this may find itself onto a brands search space and thus further magnify a potential issue even further.
This is where I believe search engines offer something so very different from both the afore mentioned skillsets and something that neither channel has found easy to replace.
Going Beyond the SERP
Increasingly brand is somewhere organisations want to protect, to make their own. Google to a certain extent have made this somewhat easier with the expansion of results where a perceived authority has been identified – often on specific brands. As such this can often mean that much of the real estate above the fold can be protected quite easily however that doesn’t mean one should think that is the job done.
1 – Don’t forget about microsites One of the easiest ways to protect your brand is to create multiple channels of entry. These secondary sites are often not heavily optimised like premium/primary sites may be, but lets face it – on your brand terms they often don’t need to be. As such it can often be easy to thus create a significant obstacle to potential threats such as negative PR or even affiliate leaching on brand terms – something that you often see particularly where clients are using voucher code websites as part of their affiliate campaigns.
2 – Protect your social space These days the amount of social media sites is mindboggling. However at the very least you should be covering off the main points of contact such as Facebook,Twitter, Linked and the like. These are often an easy win for potential brand detractors and are often treated with a degree of trust and authority by the search engines. AS such getting a rogue brand twitter stream into a brand search may not be a particularly hard thing to do and even more so if that happens to build up a degree of ‘credibility’ or goes viral in any way. This is no longer a nice to have, its an essential part of your online armoury.
3 – Make sure people can’t register negative connotations of your brand name There are a number of instances in recent times of sites which have registered negative connotations of brand names to the detriment of the organisation in question. Registering variants such as companysucks.ccTLD may be advisable particularly if your organisation suffers from a brand reputation issue – which lets be honest a number of organisations out there do. However by registering some of these easy exact match variants you can at least reduce the opportunities to potential brand detractors who may in normal instances have used such avenues for promotion.
4 – Keep your communication regular Theres no better way to keep your brand space ticking over than by keeping communication regular, whether via internal news sources or more importantly via Online PR. In my personal experience, don’t assume that just because your PR agency does your PR, that this means that online is covered. There are a number of PR agencies that do this very very well – however I would suggest the vast majority still don’t get how to a) Maximise the visilbility of their press releases online b) Maximise them for SEO purposes. Lets face it – this is about as easy link building win as you can get……
5 – Be careful what you say in the first place I think a number of people saw what happened yesterday with regards to the Columbus SEO incident and the fallout from this. Now I think many of us would agree that the whole situation could have been sorted out with a little common sense (and a new lawyer if the story from Joe himself is anything to go by). As much as good things can go viral for all the right reasons, bad things can go viral for all the wrong reasons. As such treat the internet with respect.
Think about what you say in the first place, and where you say it – if you don’t theres a good chance it may come back to bite you….