For a brisk and engaging account of how online is changing public relations it would be hard to beat Brand Anarchy.
Steve (@mynameisearl) Earl and Stephen (@wadds) Waddington know their stuff. They are full of ideas, and thoroughly enjoy rocking the boat, but also manage to stay focused on doing the job clients pay them to do.
They begin from the premise that, at its purest level, a brand is a connection between an organisation and its customers, and go on to vividly illustrate how social media and internet search have made huge changes to what people demand from such relationships.
With clear justification, they argue that "the pace of technological change has caught reputation management on the hop."
Rightly, they take 'markets as conversations' and 'the end of command and control comms' as givens, and argue that 'transparency forces honesty and clarity.'
Anyone who disagrees surely believes the Earth is flat...
Their inherent pragmatism leads to them to argue "PR still lives in the editorial world. That is how it has its influence on reputation. It is still about getting someone else to say it's good rather than saying so yourself."
If we accept this (and I am not sure I do!), part of the PR function must be to determine "what content is required to exert appropriate command over influence?"
This has a lot to do with listening to conversations, segmenting audiences, and sympathetically determining appropriate engagement, an area they handle well, not least in perhaps the strongest chapter, The Audience Answers Back. As they say:
There is a growing expectation from customers that if your brand engages online in any way via social media, that it is carte blanche for entirely transparent dialogue with the public.
... Brands have to learn that customers will approach them using social media and that the way they're handled can be visible to the whole world.
They also argue, rightly, that: "The worst thing your marketing team can do is form a digital division to handle the specific requirements of reputation management in social media... It is far better to develop a plan for ensuring that all brand managers understand all media."
Having observed that "Reputation is a sod of a thing to measure", they turn to evaluation. After landing a few punches on the glass chin of AVEs, they begin to explore sentiment analysis, but - entirely understandably - struggle to reach firm conclusions.
Brand Anarchy does however make good points about the influence search ranking can have on long term reputation: "What is written or 'said' about your brand can have a direct impact on decisions to buy, while archived editorial content can impinge on brand reputation for years to come."
Anyone who practices public relations has to be aware of the issues raised by Brand Anarchy and Waddington and Earl have done a splendid job of bringing together the arguments in a well-informed, entertaining and thought-provoking book.
Few can argue with their parting shot:
"Our advice is to stop worrying about whether or not you can control your reputation. You can't. But it needn't be brand anarchy either. Invest your energy in identifying and listening to your audience. Then plan how you will engage and participate.
"Oh, and get on with it. You haven't much time."
- Brand Anarchy, by Steve Earl and Stephen Waddington, is published by Bloomsbury, at £12.99 (but you will buy it online for less, won't you!).