There are major, fundamental differences in how traditional media and search engines serve up news and information. The public also consumes, evaluates and remembers info they see in search engines differently from what they see in print.
PR pros who are getting deeper into online reputation strategy should consider these fundamental differences:
Traditional Media Is Temporal & Fleeting
Traditional media is cyclical. News is refreshed each day. Bad publicity lasts only as long as the paper is on the newsstand, and after that it lingers faintly in most people’s memory. That negative memory can be effectively offset by putting a “positive spin” on things. So… the PR firm orchestrates a disabled children’s charity drive and fires off a dozen press releases to announce it. If this is done skillfully, the public’s negative perceptions are slowly massaged out of the collective memory and replaced by positive perceptions, one media mention at a time. There’s nothing to compare side-by-side. The negative information is no longer in sight. Just warm fuzzies brightening up yesterday’s dark thundercloud.
Search Engines Are Permanent
Search engines index information “permanently.” As long a page is live on a webserver somewhere (and the domain does nothing shady to get penalized or banned) – the search engine will probably keep “listing” it somewhere in the search results. It will usually remain in the index until the website goes out of business or gets taken down by the webmaster. Even if you manage to get some “positive buzz” right on the front page, the negative information will probably still be there – right in front their faces.
(“Wash all the negative stuff out by flooding it with positive information” is mostly the mantra of hucksters and ORM novices. It can sometimes work in mild cases of reputation damage, but it rarely works for severe reputation problems that are impacting established businesses.)
Search Engines Directly Invite Scrutiny and Comparison
Search engines naturally encourage people to compare a variety of contrasting web pages, side by side. There’s a ton of junk on the web, and people have adapted and become very discerning about the credibility of content they’re consuming. Many people can spot fake reviews and PR puffery a mile away. Heartfelt negative sentiment mixed with phony, manufactured positivity and praise looks worse than just negative sentiment alone. It is my firm belief that creating neutral, natural pages is usually far more credible than stuffing “positive” pages into search engines.
That’s the way of the web. Adding a “positive spin” on things doesn’t work in the same way it does with temporal, cyclical traditional media. The negative information will still remain there – perhaps for a long time to come – and adding too much positive stuff just seems to accentuate and validate it.