Branding was traditionally comprised entirely of offline strategies. Agencies were hired to create an image for a company and its products, and then disseminate that brand through print and mass media. With only one source for information, consumer perception was fairly easy to control. Any negative feedback about the product was received directly by the company, and any negative press about the company was kept under wraps using the same tactics employed to build its reputation in the first place. The bulk of this was achieved through public relations.
What Public Relations Means
PR is essentially the social arm of any organization. It is put in place to engage the community in non-corporate objectives and make consumers feel connected to, heard, and recognized by the company. Before the Internet, PR was used to generate buzz about a product through events and sponsorships. The idea was to generate and circulate positive word-of-mouth from customer to customer and friend to friend, leading the information to be perceived as more credible than company-to-consumer information.
Today, the same practice continues in online forums and social networks. Access to the worldwide web has transformed virtually all customers into individual PR hubs, each with the power to influence opinion with a click of the mouse. Because information on the web travels fast, online reputation repair is at its peak necessity. Whereas PR used to inspire consumer perception, today public relations must basically control it.
The Role of SEO
Being today’s go-to source for all kinds of information, the internet is the form of media with the widest reach that brand owners invest in today. Content makers engage in aggressive search engine optimization in a bid to be considered the top source of information in their field. With this development, SEO became a new form of media buying; being at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) was equivalent to scoring prime airtime.
For a time, content makers engaged in underhanded tactics that attempted to trick search engines into ranking their pages on top. Of course, Google and other engines were a step ahead of this. Today, search engines reward original content validated by its readers. This stamp of approval is a beacon that guides online denizens looking for quality content.
The Power of a Tandem
With SEO in place, digital marketing had structure, and public relations gained a platform for its messages. When PR firms had something to say, SEO provided the means for their target audience to hear it. Although advertising can buy the top spot in paid search results, the audience sees through this and considers the information unreliable because it was pushed to them. PR is unpaid search, a more trustworthy source of information in the consumer perception. With PR taking advantage of search engine optimization, image and reputation building and control can continue in the virtual space as successfully as traditional media used to.