Why PR pros must own reputation management

What once was a core element of a communicator’s portfolio has been shared with marketing, human resources, executive leadership and more. Here’s why you should be in charge.


“Reputation management” was once strictly a PR term.

We learned about it in our college courses and included it on our websites as a practice area.

In the past few years, however, reputation management was taken over by the search engine optimization world. Today, when you mention the strategy, many equate it with companywide image management, including manipulating search results by pushing down, burying or suppressing negative content and links.

Here’s how Wikipedia defines 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.

How you are initially viewed online is critical to your organization’s image, but your reputation crosses many other parts of your business. I believe that PR pros are best suited to manage this on behalf of the organizations we serve, either as in-house or outside counsel.

Online reputation is more than search results

If you think your reputation is just about search results, then you’re turning over your organization’s image to your search engine marketing team. Though they play an important role, they shouldn’t be the only ones who are concerned about your reputation.

Who is in charge of online reviews for your organization or client? If you have placed search engine marketing pros at the helm, you can be vulnerable. 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, those charged with monitoring it must be able to take appropriate action if something goes wrong. That means someone at the executive level or frontline customer service—not search engine marketing.

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Reputation management involves search-engine marketing, PR and customer service—but there’s more.

What about sites like Glassdoor? If you aren’t familiar, Glassdoor enables employees to review their employers and rate chief executives. Though this is an online review, it’s not a customer service issue. You’d be better to involve members of your human resources team.

The responsibility doesn’t stop there.

How managing image brings departments together

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

If you represent a healthcare company and tens of thousands of medical records are exposed on the dark web—or if you counsel a financial services firm and millions of credit card numbers are being fenced in the online underworld—you have a reputation problem.

This extends beyond the domain of your IT department. Today, reputation management and cybersecurity are joined at the hip.

Many disciplines now touch reputation. Customer service, HR, IT and PR are all represented along with organizational leaders. However, PR pros are best equipped to work among these often-disparate divisions.

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

This is our chance to get a bigger seat at the table. As PR pros, we must become a trusted advisor who understands the intersection of communications, customer service, SEO, online reviews, IT and HR. They meet at “reputation management,” and we should own that intersection once again.

John P. David is president of David PR Group and a partner with WebFactCheck.com. His first book, “How to Protect (Or Destroy) Your Reputation Online,” was recently published by Career Press.

(Image by Joe The Goat Farmer, via)

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