Just about every week I see an article or have a conversation with a client about the potential risks of social media and how to manage them. Quite frankly, there are many ways that social media can go wrong and cause problems for a brand, and as someone who shares advice on using social media for marketing – I can readily admit that. What I haven't seen as much discussion about is how social media could be used to protect your brand. Not fighting back after a crisis happens, but proactively as a tool to prevent people from hijacking, corrupting or negatively impacting your brand. What if you were to see social media as a way to prevent these effects instead of a potential conduit to increase them? Here are a few ideas for how you might use social media to protect your brand:
- Register domain names and usernames. Among the most long standing of brand protection "techniques" – typically this involved registering branded domain names and ensuring that people couldn't register words or brand terms important to you and then use them without your consent. In the world of social media, where it seems a new site pops up nearly every day, how can you best manage your brand not just on the obvious social networks or popular sites like Facebook and Twitter, but the many sites that are just beginning and might be big one or two years from now? One way is to use services like NameChk or Knowem – which both allow you to check on username availability and bulk register on multiple sites. This doesn't mean you need to use every site, but sometimes just having your own terms registered so no one else can have them is half the battle.
- Spot problems/crisis before they happen. By now it is probably not news to tell you that social media can be a great way to track conversations that matter to your brand. More and more companies big and small are realizing that watching the conversation online through real time tools like Twitter or by putting a social media monitoring program in place with a software based solution like Radian6 can help to identify potential issues before they expand into full blown crisis.
- See who's copying your stuff. One of the things that can cause major problems for any brand is the ease with which anyone can cut and paste your information into their own site or reformat it for any purpose. This may seem nearly impossible to track when it comes to the vast expanse of the web, but tools like Tynt can help to find content that is being used without your permission. Once you find it, the ideal way to deal with this content is to not go after every "unauthorized" use, but to have a smarter policy to determine whether the use is significantly harming your brand. That way you can avoid going after the customer who illegally used your logo to start their own fan club, and focus on the real usurpers of your brand who are trying to harm it in some way.
- Have your own place to respond. If you have ever heard the saying that the best defense is a good offense (or maybe I have that backwards), you'll understand the point of this suggestion. Often when it comes to responding to attacks or negativity in social media, the best way to respond is through your own social media sites. A press release will never be able to counter a blog post. Matching the communications channel puts you on an even playing field with those who might try to negatively impact your brand and gives you a soapbox from which to share your own point of view that can be the most effective way to get your message across.
- Get verified and trademarked. More and more social media sites now are allowing real brands to pass through some sort of validation process in order to demonstrate that their accounts are "official." Facebook lets brands protect trademarks and Twitter has their verified accounts feature. In both cases, the sites are allowing companies a way to demonstrate to their audience on that site that the account they have is real and official. Don't underestimate the value of having your official presence on these sites as a way to have trusted interactions with your customers.
- Find and support your biggest fans. Through sites like Ning customers can create their own online communities that relate to your brand. These are activities that your customers will likely do anyway, so why not offer them some tools and support for these communities? Doing so will not only help you to protect your brand by having some involvement in what they are doing, but often you can end up with better branded assets if you help because you are not forcing a real fan to go and grab assets from a web search and use them to create a substandard experience.