Public Relations vs Online Reputation Management: What is the Difference?

Brook Zimmatore | August 21, 2017

public relations

Public relations has been around for more than one hundred years, long before the advent of the internet. Yet in the digital age, another aspect of relations and reputation has emerged, online reputation management (ORM).  This relatively new branch of the marketing umbrella has left many people asking, what’s the difference? Is PR the same thing as ORM?

These two important aspects of success do have things in common, but they are different and, ideally, can work together.

Public Relations

Modern public relations began with a similar function to newspapers — communicating events or ideas that might inform the public. As the field evolved it maintained those two key elements: media campaigns & journalist PR. Early PR firms created flyers and press releases about individuals or companies they represented. While advertising is directly a marketing activity, public relations was still very much involved in marketing and promotion.

PR can indeed be a very public activity. A PR firm will still write press releases about an individual or a company, and even directly face the media or respond to negative press in person or in written form. An internal PR rep will speak on behalf of a company, or an external PR professional will act as a spokesperson at critical moments in public relations.

When considered in this way, most people know what PR is. It’s defined as, “The actions of a corporation, store, government, individual, etc., in promoting good will between itself and the public, the community, employees, customers, etc.” PR involves, then, both active promotion and organized response.

Online Reputation Management

The fact that PR involves promotion and written communication is where it overlaps, in a way, with online reputation management. ORM also includes publishing information and also serves a marketing role.

However, to manage online reputation, you promote in a less direct way. ORM includes:

  • Managing what is said online about a company
  • Generating additional online content
  • Dealing with negative online data, primarily by utilizing search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to decrease the prominence of any online criticism
  • Responding to negative online commentary or assisting in responses, such as posting comments to criticism
  • Removing defamatory content

Some public relations firms have a branch devoted to online reputation management, but in most cases, one would have representation for both PR and ORM. The overall brand and marketing campaigns of a company or individual would include both of those functions so that a unified message reaches the public, online and in other forms of media.

What is Online Reputation Management?

ORM, then, is a behind the scenes process. It is not direct marketing, which is still a separate function, but it generates goodwill and internet traffic through the creation of content. The more engaged a company or individual is on the internet, the easier it is to manage an online reputation.

Think of it this way: a company may be very well thought of by its own client base, and yet have virtually no online presence. Or, an organization may have plenty of useful and engaging online activity, and yet not directly promote company activities or face a negative story that airs on the nightly news.

You need both to maintain an excellent reputation. Both PR and ORM might be reaction techniques to repair a problem with reputation.  However, only responding after the fact does not do as much good as having plenty of positive press already out there for public consumption.

So there you have the primary reason why online reputation management needs to be part of an overall PR and marketing strategy: without enough information available online, you will not have excellent relations with the public.

CEO / Co-Founder
Brook Zimmatore is the Co-Founder & CEO at Massive.