It has never been easier – and harder – for companies and individuals to brand themselves. Let me explain.

Companies used to be largely in control of their brands. Top executives would identify their business and marketing goals, and then the marketing, communications, and design staffs would create a brand strategy that would help to achieve those goals. The marketing and sales departments would carefully select the words that would appear in taglines, advertisements, brochures, and more. Designers would brainstorm and create pictures, logos, websites, and more. PR professionals would help to get reporters to write about companies in a way that would bolster the desired public image.

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In short, the feelings that people have when they think about a company were, in large part, due to the business’ own actions. (This does not include externalities such as scandals and bad press coverage, which we will address below.)

Why its harder today

Today, it seems more difficult to manage a brand when so many online third-parties can influence the public discourse. Here are a few reasons:

  • Search results – Google, not you, controls what search results say about you
  • Wikipedia – Anyone can create or edit a page to say anything about you
  • Social media – A Facebook post or tweet about you can reach thousands, if not millions, of people within hours
  • Bloggers – Anyone with a computer is now a “reporter” and can write and publish something about you
  • Review websites – Yelp and other sites let people to publishing anything about companies that they want

Online-reputation management makes it easier
Perhaps paradoxically, the Internet Age has also made it easier to manage branding. In the Print Age, companies could do little after an article had gone to press. Today, however, the Internet is an ever-changing collection of content that can be edited, changed, deleted, or addressed almost in real time.

In such a chaotic environment, a new subset of digital marketing has emerged. Online-reputation management is a holistic set of integrated marketing and communications disciplines that include SEO, social media, and public relations. Common uses include:

Online brand monitoring
Since most newspaper and magazines are now online, online tools can quickly alert you to a mention, for example, of your London business in the Seattle Times. (Old-fashioned clipping services can take days or weeks.) The same methods can tell you of mentions on social media, Yelp, message boards, and elsewhere. If you have a Wikipedia page, you can be notified when any changes are made.

Once your company sees any problematic mentions, then an appropriate PR, social media, or other staff member can take appropriate action in real time. A PR professional may want to contact the reporter. Social experts may respond on Facebook and Twitter or communicate with Wikipedia or Yelp administrators. In extreme situations, a business’ legal department may need to become involved. (In Israel, a judge ordered a woman to pay the equivalent of $2,800 for an alleged slander that she had posted on Facebook about a company – however, every country, state, or province has different laws.)

Customer service on social media
In the digital world, people want answers to their questions immediately. Many customers prefer to post concerns on company Facebook pages or send tweets to business accounts rather than wait to be answered by a telephone representative or to receive an e-mail response.

Companies need to create and manage social-media accounts so that any customer issues are communicated first and foremost directly to them, and people do not rant about the business elsewhere online.

Using SEO to manage online reputations
Online brand monitoring and social-media customer service are just two of the tactics that companies can use to manage their brands on the Internet. Much of the time, however, online-reputation management falls under the “umbrella term” of “SEO.”

SEO is actually a slang term that refers to a collection of best practices that include online public relations, social media, and content creation. It is creating a technical SEO strategy, a social-media strategy, and a content-marketing strategy. As such, effective online brand management needs to incorporate all of these aspects.

Companies and individuals often need online-reputation management because something negative, inaccurate, or defamatory appears in the top Google search results for a brand or personal name. As a result, it is important to influence search results so that the undesired results are pushed as low as possible. After all, 75 per cent of Google users never click to the second page of search results.

To understand the strategy behind reputation management as it pertains to SEO, take this example of the first page of (non-personalised, U.S.-based) search results for Nike:

How to Dominate SERPs

Bringing it all together
The Internet is essentially a conglomeration of websites, social media, content, reviews, user opinions, news, media, and a lot more. As such, it is easier for anyone to influence your brand – but it is also easier for you to respond in kind. All it takes is a holistic marketing and PR strategy to do so.

This post was originally published on The Cline Group blog

Photo credit: Shutterstock/ Gone Viral Sign

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