Not long ago, Public Relations was generally defined as earned exposure for an organization or brand. In contrast to advertising, public relations was thought of as "free" publicity. In this paradigm, PR efforts on the radio, in print, on television or otherwise was not a paid placement; it wasn't considered advertising.
The definition of PR was different when there were limited vehicles to get exposure for your organization or brand...before social media; this may seem antiquated, but, consider that today, 2018, Facebook is less than fifteen years old. Business profile pages and Facebook Advertising are relatively new features that haven't always been available. Our point is that social media fundamentally changed the industry of Public Relations.
To be sure, organizations that engaged in Public Relations efforts had to invest resources, money, for the activity; but, the media placement itself didn't cost anything, like an advertisement. In this era, PR specialists had to routinely entertain editors and personnel of magazines, newspapers, or otherwise, to get the medium to cover the PR effort. Nurturing relationships with contacts at various media vehicles was an essential part of the job. In this regard, the Internet redefined PR.
Another function of a PR professional was/is the proactive targeting of the various publics (audiences) for PR efforts. Here's a quick list of organizational publics, or stakeholders:
- Primary Consumers
- Secondary Consumers
- Internal Leadership Personnel
- Internal Personnel
- Strategic Business Partners
- Business Investors
- Industry Influencers
- Community Stakeholders
- Outsourced personnel
From a PR perspective, a message crafted for a Personnel Public probably wouldn't be the same as a message crafted for an Investor Public.
Another significant part of Public Relations is proactive Crises Management and Reputation Management. With these efforts, PR professionals work with leadership to attempt to craft messages for future adverse situations. In short, the strategic fundamentals of Public Relations remain the same, but, from a tactical perspective, PR has recently undergone a radical transformation. In today's 24-hour real-time feedback loop environment, PR is more important than effort.
The reputation of your business, brand, products, and services, is based on public perception. As much as your organization would like to control the conversation about your business, this isn’t possible with modern media. Social media, review sites, community forums and other platforms allow anyone to contribute to the perception of your business at any time of day. Unsatisfied customers, angry partners, disgruntled ex-employees, and offended community stakeholders are just a few types of people you may come across when you are monitoring the Internet for mentions of your business or brand.
Reputation monitoring is the tactic of proactively listening for community mentions of your brand. Interacting with the community feedback would be considered part of reputation management as well. While monitoring for mentions can be rather easy, responding to those mentions can be difficult. It’s nice to see positive comments regarding your business, but it can be excruciating to see negative mentions. Triaging your brand mentions on the Internet and responding appropriately are different skills.
Large organizations can have teams of people focused exclusively on the management of the reputation of their business and their brands. Smaller companies may have no team at all in place to handle their professional communication. Communication is, in our opinion, an under-appreciated skill. Smaller businesses may have to rely on the communication skills of the owner or one of their employees.
In the past, large companies conducted focus groups to understand the public sentiment related to their brand, their products, their services, or otherwise. These companies leveraged their findings to create new products and services to meet consumer demand better. Additionally, they used the feedback to craft their advertising and public relations efforts in a way to better position their brand. Businesses and brands that operate in a silo, ignoring or not responding to the general sentiment about their brand, do so at their peril.
With modern media, many large companies are leveraging data like never before. While focus groups and market research are still conducted to understand changing market demands, today big data is driving decisions related to business models, service offerings, product offerings, and how a business should communicate with their target audience. Once again, small businesses are at a disadvantage. Small companies generally don’t have access to many of the big data tools that large corporations leverage. Additionally, they don’t have the expertise to mine the data in-house or respond quickly to the changing tastes of the marketplace. But, there is hope…things are changing.
Some of the new ambitious digital media business tools attempt to combine inventory data with transactional data with review data with social media analytics and digital marketing metrics. These tools are in a stage of infancy, even with large corporations. Even with access to these tools, large corporations find it difficult to connect all the areas of expertise: merchandisers, search marketers, analytics professionals, integration engineers, brand managers, web designers, product category managers, etc. Not only is there a cost to gain access to the platform, but there is also the cost of getting the correct people with the right expertise adopted onto the platform.
In recent years many reputation monitoring platforms have emerged to assist brand managers and PR professionals. Platforms like Radian6, BrandsEye, Collective Intellect, Nielsen and Google Alerts, help managers listen for public feedback on the Internet. Some fee-based platforms are more robust than others and come with tools developed specifically to assist with triage. Other services, like Google Alerts, are not as robust, but they are free and easy to set up. Every organization, regardless of size, should be monitoring the Internet for public sentiment related to their brand, product, service or otherwise.
Business names, branded names, trademarked terms and organizational names are just a few examples of the types of brand mentions that should be proactively monitored on the Internet. Consider the amount of time and capital it takes to found a business or create a specific product. Trademarking a particular brand term can take a year or more. Monitoring social media is not just about becoming engaged with conversations related to your brand, it is about protecting your brand–especially if you own a trademarked term.
Not all “mentions” require an immediate response; some require an immediate response. Left unanswered, the comments of a single blogger, ex-employee, unscrupulous competitor, disgruntled partner or otherwise, can quickly undo the hard efforts of your organization and tarnish your reputation. At Vagary, we suggest the use of a style guide “cheat sheet” to proactively think about how you might respond to various type so public sentiment.
There is a big difference between being an expert with specific digital media platforms and being an expert communicator. Knowing how to use social media platforms is not enough. Professional communicators craft responses while carefully selecting copy, tone, target audience, appeal, and possibly even rhetorical devices; they know that every post or tweet is part of a permanent record. For professional communicators, writing copy is an art form. There is a silver lining for every situation.
Before you determine the option of not engaging in social media is a valid one, consider that social conversations and comments are already occurring about your brand. The fact of the matter is, most people trust an independent opinion about your brand more than they trust your brand. Our society has become jaded with regards to cold advertising. We live in an era of social business. Businesses that proactively positively engage their social community generally fair better in our modern world than businesses that chose not to interact with their publics. Managing the social reputation of your brand takes expertise with media platforms as well as skill as a communicator.
Vagary is ready to assist you with your communication plan; it should include channels that make it easy for you to broadcast (marketing, public relations) your voice and it should contain media platforms that help you collect (listen for) data so that you can strategically position your business moving forward. We can help you adopt specific platforms as well as help you create a style guide for your responses. We can help you craft proactive crisis management plans for various types of scenarios. We can even help you manage damage control after a potentially devastating event. At Vagary, media and communication are our passion. We want to help you succeed. Your success will be dependent on the reputation of your brand; you can’t control this reputation, but you can be part of its evolution.
Public Relations and Marketing are different disciplines. Need to get more control of your communication with your various publics?