Talk it up: Brand strategy online


The Internet is an ideal place for public relations people because it offers unique opportunities to reach a broad audience interested in our client’s products.

When talking about Internet PR we’re usually referring to strategies encouraging positive banter among users regarding a product, service or brand.

There are many different approaches to Word of Mouth, or WOM, campaigns. They generally all start by involving blogstars or influencers of a particular niche in the conversation.

Let’s say you want to promote a new mobile phone by prompting a conversation on the Internet. The best way to spark this is to send a free phone not only to tech bloggers and journalists, but also to influential bloggers that have no connection at all with the mobile world.

This creates a sincere discussion about the product’s up and downs, led by a person who is popular enough to be trusted. Also, certain bloggers are distant enough from industry to be less biased. Nokia, SonyEricsson and LG, have done exactly this. Moreover, LG created a blog were a PR person traced conversations, replying to comments and reviews.

Another (less expensive) way to start the conversation is to engage power users and fans, aggregating them around a cause. A Nokia fanboy, for example, will likely sponsor the brand’s cause for free, just to be part of it. However, this kind of campaign may appear biased. The reduced cost is often balanced against modest results.

The most important thing about Internet PR is to keep advancing the conversation after it is underway. The company has to keep a close eye on the campaign’s unfolding, participating consistently and sincerely in the conversation where and as it happens. If the users are talking about the brand on Facebook, the company has to participate there. Resist the temptation to move the conversation to a company blog.

Some “big budget” companies marry online campaigns with offline initiatives, going guerrilla WOM as they aim to spread offline a conversation that’s transpiring online. Or there’s experience WOM, creating an experience for the customers to enjoy (a party, a temporary shop, a special event, etc.) consistent with a story the brand is telling online.

“One-man shows” can also benefit from online WOM strategies. Gary Vaynerchuck is a clear example of this. He transformed his family winery in an online multi-million empire, simply by producing a solo podcast on which he tastes and comment the wines he sells.

Vaynerchuck is open about which wines he dislikes or which ones are overpriced, even if he is the one who sells those wines. It’s a move that could look suicidal to the untrained eye, but that’s just what you have to do to start a conversation and earn trust from your customers.

The bottom line for Internet PR and Word of Mouth is that there’s not a “golden rule” to apply. But there are some fundamental principles and companies must stick to them. Honesty is the most important one. When Wal Mart produced a fake blog consumers’ reaction brought shame on the brand all over the Internet, the traces of with are still visible online just Googling “Walmart”.

Another piece of good advice is to value negative comments as highly as positive feedback. It’s often by the company reaction to a negative feedback users can gauge how transparent and open the company is. Customers aren’t always right, despite the popular belief, but they always have to be treated with respect and their voices have always to be heard.