Time for PR to Take Back Reputation Management

All roads lead to reputation managementAs an old-school public relations consultant, I remember the days when “reputation management” was strictly a PR term.  We learned about it in our college courses and included it on our websites as a practice area.  But then sometime in the past few years, reputation management was stolen from us by the search engine optimization world.  Today, when you mention reputation management, most people equate it with “online” reputation management and the act of trying to manipulate search results by pushing down, burying or suppressing negative content and links.

If you don’t believe me, ask Wikipedia (cue groans.)  I know that our profession has an “it’s complicated” relationship with Wikipedia, but millions of people use it each day, and here’s what it says about reputation management:

Reputation management refers to influencing and controlling an individual’s or business’s reputation. Originally a public relations term, the expansion of the internet and social media, along with reputation management companies, have made it primarily an issue of search results.

Ouch, right?

Yes, how you are initially viewed online is critical to your company’s image — that’s a given.  But your reputation crosses so many other parts of your business, and I believe that the public relations profession is best suited to manage this on behalf of the companies we serve, either as in-house or outside counsel.

Online reputation is much more than search results

If you think your reputation is just about your search results, then you’re turning over your company’s reputation to your search engine marketing team.  While they play an important role, should they be the only ones who are concerned about your reputation? I say no.

What about online reviews?  Who’s in charge of this for your company or your client?  Do you have your search engine marketing people in charge of this?  If so, you’re probably vulnerable because millions of people look at online reviews across multiple sites, and it should be a customer service function more than anything else.

If your customers, happy or unhappy, are commenting about your business on a review site, who should be monitoring it?  Who can take the appropriate action if something goes wrong?  It must be someone at the executive level or frontline customer service—not search engine marketing.

So reputation involves search engine marketing, PR and customer service, right?

But wait, there’s more.

What about sites like Glassdoor?  If you aren’t familiar, Glassdoor enables employees to review their employers and even rate CEOs.  Who should be monitoring this for your company?  Yes, it’s an “online review” but certainly not a customer service issue.  Better involve your human resources staff.

But wait there’s still more.

What about other areas of the internet like the deep web and the dark web where information is being published about businesses outside of the view of search engines?

Reputation and cybersecurity joined at the hip

If you represent a healthcare company and tens of thousands of medical records are exposed on after a deep web scan, do you have a reputation issue?  If you counsel a financial services firm and millions of credit card numbers are being fenced in the online underworld, do you have a reputation problem?  Of course, but is this solely the domain of your IT department?

Today, reputation management and cybersecurity are joined at the hip.

Many disciplines now touch reputation – far beyond SEO.  Customer service, human resources, IT and PR are all represented along with the C-suite.  Who is best equipped to work among these often-disparate divisions?  In my opinion, it is the PR team.

We must embrace yet another challenge in our shifting profession

Staking our claim and taking back reputation management starts with embracing technology and looking beyond our traditional roles.  We must look beyond media relations, social media marketing, sponsored content, etc. and view the whole reputation management picture.

This is our chance to get a bigger seat at the table.  As PR professionals, we must become that trusted advisor who understands the intersection of public relations, customer service, search engine optimization, online reviews, IT and human resources.  They meet at “reputation management,” and we need to own that intersection once again.  We need to take back reputation management.


More on this and a lot of other interesting stuff in my book How to Protect (Or Destroy) Your Reputation Online.