Protecting Your Brand From Online Attacks

Flying NinjaThe Wall Street Journal scared the bejesus out of me this morning. If you missed it, there was an article about The Dark Side of ‘Webtribution’ that detailed exactly how easy it is for someone to destroy your hard-earned reputation in a matter of minutes. The article told the story of a jilted ex girlfriend who sent a mass email calling her boyfriend’s new flame a home-wrecker; a wife who logged into her cheating husband’s Facebook account to air all their dirty laundry while pretending to be him; and another female who took to her blog to embarrass her newly-engaged ex-boyfriend. [God, girls are bitches, eh?]

The article says it’s the ‘online disinhibition effect’ that’s to blame for people acting badly on the Internet. When it goes toxic, it turns normally mild-mannered folks into an angry mob capable of doing and saying things they’d never commit to in real life. And if you’re a business owner, you know this. Thanks to social media, you now live in fear of what an angry Yelper, Twitterer or blogger may say about your brand. But you shouldn’t. Instead, you should be taking proactive steps to protect yourself.

We offer a full-fledged (and free) online reputation management guide to help business owners protect and repair their online reputations. But here are some proactive steps you can take today to help lessen your chance for ultimate brand disaster.

Step 1: Work on claiming your SERP

When you own your SERPs it puts you in a much better position to defend against possible brand attacks. Make sure you’re running some good defense by claiming and building out your vanity domain name, and taking steps to build and protect your brand. Do this by spending time creating media that will rank, registering your social media accounts (even if you don’t plan to actively promote them), rocking the guestblogging, speaking where you can, etc. For most businesses, it’s not going to take an enormous amount of effort to dominate your Google 10, you just have to go through the proper hoops. I mean, steps. You have to go through the proper steps to solidify your presence. Exactly.

Step 2: Ramp up your customer service

Don’t be Comcast. Don’t enter social media, say all the right things…and then leave me waiting 22 days for cable hookup. That’s not cool and it hands people a bat to beat you with. Go back to being human. If you know you can solve a customer’s problem, just do it. Don’t make them run in circles before you get out of your chair. Treat your customers and clients better than they expect to be treated and you’re far less likely to create the jilted customer who wants to blog about what a jerk you are. Successful social media and ORM campaigns have always been rooted in good customer service. I wish it was more complicated, but it’s not. Just be fair to people. That’s all their asking for.

[Justin Kownacki advises brands to watch out for the fallacy of social media customer service and makes a lot of great points. While it’s very true that 140 characters of hate does not entitle you to a pony, any interaction with your company should entitle them to be treated like a human. There’s a difference.]

lego listening stationStep 3: Build your listening station

Do not underestimate the value of a good listening station. Knowing what customers are saying is a great way to calm down angry people before they take to the streets to air their grievances. If someone’s getting loud on Twitter because you didn’t give them a light bulb with their newly purchased light or you make it harder than it needs to be to unsubscribe from something – get in that conversation. Chances are they’re not going to calm down on their own. It may seem like a trivial issue to you, but it’s not to your customers.

Free tools like Google Alerts, Google Reader, Twitter Search, and Social Mention make it really easy for people to stay in the loop and casually ‘overhear’ what people are saying about them. It’s also really important in helping you to manage customer reviews, as well. Your listening station and good customer service are the two most important tools you have in fighting off brand attacks. If you can reach out to someone who left a negative review that’s ranking in the SERPs, it’s very often worth your time to reach out – especially when they update it to mention the great new interaction they just had with you. But you can’t put out fires you don’t know exist.

Step 4: Learn when to duck and when to punch

When your ex-girlfriend emails your social circle and accuses you of cheating on her, that’s bad. However, when a customer or competitor uses their blog to call you out…it’s not always bad. It may give you a forum to address a larger problem or maybe it’s just giving folks a reason to talk about you and build brand awareness. Learn how to use negative press and how to tactfully bring the conversation over to your house. Sometimes there’s a clever way to capitalize on the attention. And sometimes you simply need to just say something so that the Internet moves on and stops talking about you. Learn the difference.

The article that ran in the Wall Street Journal was a little frightening. It makes it seem like it’s the loud people who are in control of the Internet. But that’s not necessarily true. While you can’t control every conversation people are having about you, you can impact your part in it. And often, that’s enough to keep both you and your brand safe from angry customers, jealous competitors and even crazy girls everywhere (holla!).

About the Author
Lisa Barone
Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

Your Comments

  • David Zemens

    Hard work. It’s that simple. We all need to work hard and be diligent in tracking our brands and our reputation online. Nobody ever said it would be easy.

    But the rewards balance out the risks. There are far, far more stories of successful branding than there are stories of webtribution.

    Oh, and to answer your question: Yes, girls are bitches. :-)

    • Lisa Barone

      HEY! :p

  • Matt Sullivan

    As an expert on crazy ex-girlfriends (aka “redheads”), I wanted to comment here:

    I was once told to always act “as if your mother was watching”. While I never really put this into effect, because my mother wasn’t watching, social media makes it possible to always be watched. If you’re going to half-ass your involvement, I think you need to let customers know that you’re only going half-ass it. If you try to make your presence the ultimate solution (e.g. Comcast, Jillians, etc.) and fall short, you are only doing more damage to yourself.

    Lisa: How do you feel about using listening stations to also monitor competitors brands/mentions, and then getting involved in conversations where people are complaining?

    – @sully

    • Lisa Barone

      Ah, ginger bashing. I do think I love you already, Matt. :)

      If we all acted as if our mother was watching, we’d be living in a very different world…

      As for monitoring competitors’ terms, yes, absolutely. I think that’s a bit of a different discussion which is why it wasn’t mentioned, but I’m a big fan of using all the same tools mentioned above to do some healthy competitive intelligence.

  • kim krause berg

    Great and timely topic and advise. I wish it could be as easy as it reads…in the end, some of us will need a lawyer. I always wonder why anyone would believe a girlfriend , or ex gf, or boyfriend or ex bf who is so obviously co-dependent and desperate for attention that they risk their own reputation to ruin others.

    • Lisa Barone

      Because it’s juicy. It’s fun to believe what’s juicy.

      • Kim Krause Berg

        Yep. Which is why I believe in ufo’s, sex after 50, secretly have a crush on….

        • Lisa Barone

          See, I just make all my crushes public.


          • David Temple

            You’re only following 2 of your crushes and why the hell ain’t I on the list?

  • Todd Mintz

    Might want to consider pimping out just a bit (in keeping with your own advice)…and perhaps some other variants of your name as well.

  • Steve

    Couldn’t agree more with the customer service comment – sometimes bad service needs highlighting.

    Technology makes it so easy to get your story heard ‘these days’ – big brands should know better O2 Broadband Speedtest

  • Nathan Hangen

    Great points.

    Google alerts are definitely your friend, and although they can’t catch most of the crap on Facebook, you can at least keep an eye on who’s linking to you and for what.

  • Dennis Yu


    Great post, as usual! What I’d want to understand is when to ignore versus when to respond and how to draw that line. A casual dining client of ours fired an employee for tweeting negatively about the brand, which then resulted in his posting to his substantial youtube and twitter base. Thus, we had to decide between responding, which fans the flames, versus ignoring, which opens you up to potential neglect. In the end, we chose ignore, since this fellow was acting dastardly and we didn’t think there was something we had to apologize for. And that worked. The issue died the next day.

    But in cases where there is something potentially bad, even if told one-sided, would be interested to hear your thoughts.

  • Data Entry Services

    Very timely since Tiger Woods ex-girlfriends seem to be coming out of the woodwork this morning. He needs to read your blog.

  • Jim Rudnick

    re: Tiger…wonder what club she used on that window….me? I would’a picked a sand wedge….



    PS spot-on Lisa….great piece!

  • pravakar

    I have done a lot of research on branding techniques, all I have to say is great post as this has truly cleared the air for me. Thanks!

  • Jenny Garcia

    Oh, I know! you are correct, nice twist on the ex girlfriend being like a upset customer lol, nice work lisa