A Guide to Protecting Your Brand Online
We live in a time where almost anyone can hijack your brand -- from setting up yourbrandsucks.com to simply ripping it off. The Internet has brought a wide range of marketing and sales opportunities, of course, but it's also brought many new management responsibilities. Protecting your brand online is one of them. Where do you start? With nearly an infinite number of options available, how do you protect your brand without going broke? Here are a few suggestions.
Probably one of the most controversial changes in recent memory is the introduction of the .sucks domain name. If you want to defensively register yourbrand.sucks so that nobody else can buy it and write nasty things about you, it will cost you anywhere from $199 to $2,499 per year. Is it worth it? If you sell to consumers and you've spent the money to get yourbrandsucks.com and other similar variants, it may well be.
On the other hand, even if you register the obvious domains, someone can still spot something you missed and, depending on the TLD (the ending, like .com or .sucks) register it for as little as $10. You might end up spending hundreds or thousands only for some cheeky fellow to pick up YourBrandReallySucks.com later.
Cybersquatting is far from the only threat to your brand online. Copyright infringement is another big one. For example, if you publish and create content like white papers, blogs, or videos online, it's important to state that your content is proprietary and you are reserving all copyrights.
In some cases, it's worth going even further to get formal (read: costly) legal protection via trademarks or patents (which is applicable depends on the nature of your material). However, ensuring you claim copyright on all your content is a key step towards the right direction.
Watch your brand reputation
Your marketing team, whether they're in-house or outsourced, has to put in a concerted effort to keep an eye on what people are saying about your brand on the web. Free and simple tools are available to do this, like Google Alerts, Google Analytics, Social Mention, and TweetReach. They can all be used to help defend your brand on the web.
Make sure your employees stay on-brand when they're online
Your staff should actively promote your brand on the relevant online platforms. This might be posting content to your own or an industry association blog, or mentioning your company's latest developments on social media.
The challenge here is that they need to be doing this in the right way. For example, if you have a fairly buttoned-down business like an accounting or legal firm, the communications from your staff should be professional. On the other hand, a fast-paced creative firm should be more engaging and maybe a bit off-the-wall.
One way to ensure everything fits is to develop a "brand bible", which outlines everything from how and where your logo and trademarks are used to the direction and tone of your presence online.
Keep active and be searchable
Many companies have their reputations compromised just because they don't properly manage their brand presence online. Companies might fail to maintain a website in any number of ways, from letting the aesthetic get outdated to neglecting software updates. Posting and developing new web content is usually an afterthought.
On the other hand, search engines like Google have to be able to trust your site and see it as relevant before they improve your ranking. If you ignore your website and treat it as just a brochure that you update every few years, it will almost inevitably compromise your presence online.
Even worse, if you fall truly behind and even forget to renew your domain registration, it may be picked up by cybersquatters. These people look for soon-to-expire domains, buy them when they expire, and then sell the domains back to the previous owner at an exorbitant sum. After all, most people will rather pay to get the domain back rather than spend even more to rebrand around a new domain.
Also, it's important to defend your website against hackers. Have strong passwords for your CMS and FTP and never share them. If you do e-commerce, make sure your e-commerce software is secure and defends against at least easy hacking -- and be sure it encrypts all stored customer data and credit card details.
While all this can sound daunting, and indeed defending your brand in a digital world can be a challenge, but it's also an opportunity. Many of the steps to defending your brand go hand-in-hand with developing the online marketing effort which you've always wanted but maybe never had a chance to implement.
Image source: Flickr