Defending Your Brand: How Some Companies Are Setting Themselves Up for PR Problems

Not every company feels compelled to use social media.  But those who haven’t at least moved to establish their own online presence may be in for a surprise: it’s incredibly easy for someone else to do it for you — and not always with the best of intentions.

notHJheinz

Case in point: Michael Werch wondered how long it would take the average corporation to realize that someone was pretending to be them online.  To find out, he began masquerading as the HJ Heinz Corporation on Twitter, mostly as an experiment to test the reflexes of modern business.  The result? Heinz noticed — two weeks later — and Twitter renamed Werch’s account to divest it of any connection to the company.

Werch’s confession in Ad Age has generated an interesting array of (mostly predictable) responses, including:

  • The obvious lesson: Businesses must control and protect their online images, even if it means squatting on their own company names across multiple platforms (so enterprising individuals don’t beat them to it).
  • The obvious question: Why did Heinz squash Werch’s account, rather than taking it over (or collaborating with him) and building upon the brand goodwill he’d already launched on their behalf?
  • The counterpoint: Heinz is the kind of industry leader that “doesn’t need to use Twitter” and other web tools because their perceived impact is so negligible that doing so would be a waste of Heinz’s marketing dollars.
  • The counter-counterpoint: Heinz may not need to use Twitter, but imagine the PR headache they’d be facing now if Werch hadn’t been a fan of the brand, but a whistleblower intent on divulging company secrets, questioning their business practices, etc.

Does every company need to use social media?  Of course not.  But just because your company doesn’t use social media, that doesn’t prevent someone else from adopting your company’s name — and, potentially, from damaging your brand.

If your company still isn’t sure about its own intentions toward Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and beyond, here’s a tip: someone in your corporate office should register your company’s name (and all its common derivatives) on all currently-relevant platforms, just in case.  You never have to use them, but you might sleep a little easier knowing that no one else can, either.

(If that tip sounds familiar, it’s probably because someone was telling you the same thing 15 years ago, only the topic was websites, not Twitter accounts.  Same logic, different era, and that logic never stops making sense.)

And, of course, a caveat: if someone really doesn’t like your company, nothing’s stopping them from ranting about you online.  But that kind of vitriol should be spewing from something other than your company’s “official” web presence.  (Plus, if you’ve registered your official presence on Twitter, etc., but your company just hasn’t found a reason to make use of it, there’s nothing like a PR catastrophe to get the engines running — and you don’t want to lose time playing catch-up then, do you?)