Public relations needs honesty not "snake oil" strategies online

 at StrivePR links to an interesting post by  looking at the role of public relations in influencing online opinion as a result of:

“the neuroses of many corporations who recognise that the internet is a vast, untamable wild west of opinion and information where brands are made and lost – but aren’t quite sure what to do about it.”

The solution from too many consultancies is to encourage companies to believe they can control this interconnected, opinionated, every-changing environment.  The myth of the rational manager is evident with public relations and marketing practitioners acting as over-hyping their own ability to engage in blogs, social-networks, and so on, to ensure companies are spoken about positively, regardless of reality.  Those corporate managers eager to look cool and in control, happily buy the myth.

Of course companies should monitor what is being said about them online – this is their valuable reputation after all.  But when you hear things you don’t like, the first thing to consider in addressing such perceptions is whether the comments are based on reality.  If so, then you need to resolve the problem – not manipulate the communications.  If there is a credibility gap, that is the time to correct misconceptions.

If you want to see the hyperbole of consultancies peddling online snake oil, check out , “the UK’s fastest growing publicly quoted marketing services company, committed to delivering exceptional results both for clients and investors. For clients, our group companies offer a broad portfolio of strategic brand and tactical marketing and communications solutions.” – what exactly does that mean?  Ditto the quote of Creston’s director of influence, Nicholas Jeffery:

“We eavesdrop on the conversation, and then impart that public domain information to clients in a structured way. It’s important not only to collect that information but to influence the conversation.”

Online requires clarity of communications – and understanding of basic human relationships.  Kiss relays an example of Jeremy Clarkson slating a car brand – according to Jeffery:

a brand couldn’t do much about that apart from post something on its own site. But he said if it could identify customers that are writing favourable things about the car, the company could try to promote that. It could make sure that the sites use the same metatags, Jeffery said, so that when a consumer searches for that model they’d bring up both the official site and a review on the blog.

Actually – no.  What professional public relations practitioners in the UK motor industry know about working with Mr Clarkson et al, is the importance of positive working relationships.  Journalists have commented on models since the first cars were produced over 100 years ago and public relations involves more than promoting some metatags when managing a positive reputation. 

Companies do need to ensure accurate and useful information is available through all points of possible contact – responding to the “pull” nature of new media and more traditional communication routes.  They should listen and address problems expressed online – and look at how they can participate in social media in a credible, ethical manner.  Supporting real advocates and champions is much better than seeking to manipulate conversations online.

Apparently, Creston charges more than £40,000 for a full corporate blog strategy – that sounds like expensive snake oil to me.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

3 thoughts on “Public relations needs honesty not "snake oil" strategies online”

  1. You’ve hit the nail on the head with this one. I always try to get clients to understand the ‘R’ in PR is for relationships. The communications medium is a tool used to build the relationship. It doesn’t matter if it’s a newspaper, a blog or a drumbeat for that matter, as long as your audience uses that medium. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Thanks Sherrilynne – like you, I support the title “public relations” because it says what we should be doing, building relationships with our publics. Much better than the one-way titles of corporate communications, the manipulative nature of “reputation management” or the narrow focus of press office.

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