Managing your company’s reputation in an online world has become an increasingly complex and difficult task. Ensuring that employees adhere to appropriate guidelines on Facebook and Twitter is difficult enough. Preventing customers from venting their spleen over poor service and faulty product is even harder. But what do you do when someone outright impersonates your company’s brand in a social media forum?
Take this example that was posted into comments on a number of websites, including Techworld:
"I am feeling really down and depressed right now. I'm in a lot of physical pain. And mentally, I'm not doing so well either. Both my OCD and depression are weighing me down. I don't know what to do. I'm just not feeling good. I just had to get this out. Have you ever heard about Paxil pills? [[Twitter URL link removed] Does it look like the right solution?”
The comment linked through to a Twitter account that included the name Paxil, a trademark owned by GlaxoSmithKline(GSK). Obviously a tacky (and in many countries, illegal) attempt to sell more drugs. Except that the Twitter account was not owned by GSK, the original creators of the Paxil product. On contacting GSK, a company spokesperson confirmed that the company “does not under any circumstances participate in marketing activities of this type”. Indeed the Twitter account linked through to a rather dubious online anti-depressant pills vendor with a special offer of free Viagra with every order of more than 60 pills.
Advertising pharmaceuticals directly to consumers is not permitted in the majority of countries, but no-one is likely to remember the website long after it’s closed down. But anyone who noticed the social media post and recognised Paxil as a GSK brand may well quietly think less of the GSK brand for “breaching” those guidelines.
Reputations are more visible – and more vulnerable – than ever before,” says futurist Ross Dawson, who cites reputation as one of the key themes for 2012. So what can you do to ensure that your organisation is remembered for the right reasons?
Know what's being said about your organisation
Google’s Me On The Web provides a helpful tool for managing personal reputations, alerting you when content is published that contains your company name. To do this simply sign into your Google account, open your Google Dashboard and click on Me on the Web. Now as soon as information is published, you’ll know about it straight away.
Once armed with that information, Nick Bell, reputation management specialist from Rep Agency suggests being proactive rather than reactive.
“I strongly recommend all companies dominate the 1st page of Google for their company name. Promote positive information about their company on the 1st page, to ensure no negative information never surfaces,” says Bell.
“Prevention is far cheaper in dollar terms, rather than being reactive which can be quite costly and time consuming”.
Talk to the social media sites
“If companies are illegally using social media sites, for example by misusing brand names, the first port of call is to ask the social media site to close the infringing account. Social media services want to avoid problems, and if there is obvious abuse they will take action,” says Dawson.
“You do need to be careful with this approach and only use it when it is legitimate. For example the social media furore Nestle experienced about its use of palm oil from rainforest areas came only after it asked YouTube to take down a Greenpeace video by saying it infringed its trademarks.
"If you can identify the infringing company and it is based in a country with a strong legal system, you can issue a cease-and-desist notice and otherwise take legal action, though in many cases this isn’t viable.”
"If there are no legal or other direct remedies, while it is frustrating it is often better not to take action. Drawing attention to what might be a small issue would just make the problem bigger.”