The field of public relations and marketing has evolved rapidly in recent years, and it continues to advance as it runs to keep up in an ever-expanding digital world.

These days, business marketing plans aim squarely at electronic media, and virtually all PR programs now include not only search engine optimization but online reputation management as well.

Online reputation management is the process of managing the public perception of a business or person using select, clearly defined digital controls and measures. It balances the all-important SEO, which aims to grow engagement online, and it transcends the foundational, traditional offline reputation management (media visibility, press releases and sponsorships). All are now vital pieces of the PR puzzle.

According to a recent study, 91 percent of consumers regularly or occasionally read online reviews, 90 percent are positively influenced by a good review and 86 percent are negatively influenced by a bad one.

Whether it’s on Google, Yelp, social media, online forums, personal blogs or any other public platform, consumers’ e-comments are important. They can hit businesses right in their virtual pocketbooks and upend entire careers in real life.

That’s why it’s become an imperative for businesses of all sizes to consider online reputation management along with SEO in their digital marketing budgets.

A good ORM plan will provide businesses and individuals with useful, usable advice and information that can be harnessed into action to reverse any negative buzz that might be floating around out there in the ether and to capitalize on positive news.

Originally a strictly public relations term, reputation management has sprung into the business mainstream as trust- and credibility-driven professionals such as lawyers, financial advisers, CPAs and/or their clients have caught on to it — and it’s grown to include everyone from single-employee companies on up.

For anyone interested in online reputation management, the simplest method, of course, is to budget for it and hire a professional marketing firm that will take on the role of reputation manager in addition to its more standard PR duties. We personally have seen a surge lately in requests for ORM all across our client base.

Whether it’s your PR firm or you who’s managing your online reputation, here are a few basic considerations and steps to take:

• Scan the internet: First and foremost, monitor all online mentions, using Google alerts and other software tools. Google “online reputation software” for info on the various options available to aid in your monitoring.

• Review the review sites: In the case of our attorney clients, for example, we pay close attention to online lawyer review sites and any other digital places where consumers go to find an attorney; those are the same places they may later leave their feedback, so we want to be familiar with them.

• The bad news …: Of course, if you’re truly engaged in ORM, there is always the chance that you’ll uncover some publicity you’d rather not have. In terms of ORM, controlling the spread of negative publicity across the web is the greatest challenge.

• The good news …: You are in control. You may have a marketing team, but you ultimately get to answer the questions: How would you like to manage your and your company’s reputations? With honesty and humility? (We recommend this.) With humor? (Sometimes a good idea.) With apologies? (Only if a complaint is fully warranted; if it’s wholly unfounded, we recommend zero engagement.) And how do you want to publicize the positive feedback? (Happy dilemma.)

Positive feedback is a beautiful thing. This kind of news should be shared across as many media as possible, online and otherwise, in as savvy a way as possible. Spreading good news is the fun part of ORM.

• Jennifer Goddard Combs is the president of The Goddard Company Public Relations & Marketing in Carpinteria.