Brand Management – Pubcon 2008

Somehow, even though we had half an hour between the keynote and the first session, it doesn’t feel like any time at all.

Speakers Brian Combs, Senior VP & Chief Futurist, Apogee Search; Lauren Vaccarello, Director of Publishing, Forex Capital Markets LLC; Tony Wright, CEO/Founder, WrightIMC; and Jessica L. Bowman, Founder and President, with moderator Joe Laratro are the entertainment experts for this brand management session. I think Jessica is still writing her presentation. Everyone else is discussing the order in which they want to present.

Joe says that of the four presentations, two are going to be very broad and two are going to be very specific, so we’re going to start with the two broads. [He means Lauren and Jessica… Oh, Joe.]

Jessica Bowman steps up.

Yesterday we started talking about the halo effect. You need to create a consistent customer experience. You might have a grip on your customer service line, on your news cycle, or on the real world locations, but you might not have taken into account the SERPs and social media.

Traditional media gives you less than 50 percent of the halo, and that’s going to be decreasing over time. It’s super easy these days to complain online to a lot of people at once. If you get on the wrong side of a Guy Kawasaki, your complaint goes to the masses.

Last night’s packed Zappos party was only advertised on Twitter.

The iPhone makes it even easier to surf and post and review things. It used to be, you’d have to wait to get home and your anger would have time to calm down. Not anymore.

British Airways had employees on Facebook who were commenting and it actually damaged their reputations. Virgin Atlantic fired 13 employees for negative comments. It probably isn’t malicious, it’s just venting to friends.

You need to train your company:

  • Great customer service needs to be company culture.
  • Train all customer touch points on how to handle customers — especially those who WILL go post things online.
  • It’s too easy for anyone to complain, to thousands of people.
    • Twitter
    • Facebook
    • iPhone

Establish boundaries and rules.

Add guidelines for online commenting and blogging to your employee handbook.

Grant access to social media sites and allow employees to access social media sites to monitor buzz.

Monitor and report what’s being said.

Jessica had a problem with her airline so she started dreaming about what she’d do if she had time:

  • Comments at Yahoo and Google Local
  • Comment on her blog
  • Twitter update (which pushes out to Facebook)
  • AdWords ad with the complaint
    • Primary purpose: To get the attention of a VP who can instill change
    • If on a budget, she’d geo-target the ad to appear only where the company is headquartered

Complaints need to be addressed before they become complaint sites.

Lauren Vaccarello is up next. She’s an SEO mercenary. Like CShel!

Lauren will be sharing tips for maintaining and defending your brand. The best offense is a good defense.

Get the best players:

  • Buy domains around your target
  • Keywords and brand name
  • Make sure to own
  • Own your
  • Don’t overlook social media
  • Register your brand name on social media platforms:
    • Twitter
    • Create a Facebook group
    • Naymz
  • Know what your competitors are doing
  • Keep an eye on your key players
    • Create alerts for your name with Google Alerts and Trackur
  • Monitor everything (and once you do, be proactive)
    • Tweet Pro is a paid product that helps you monitor Twitter
  • Use Twitter to help your reputation.
    • By monitoring brand mentions on Twitter, you can prevent customer loss.
  • Be on the offense by empowering your brand loyalists.
  • Respond to negative publicity quickly

Brian Combs is up next.

Before you have a problem, dedicate resources to online customer service, monitor online conversations, use consistent naming conventions, and create and propagate multiple sites. Engage your customers.

Upon finding a problem:

  • Engage and attempt to diffuse.
    • This may create an online fan.
    • Don’t get defensive or attempt to strong arm; you’ll make it worse.
    • Don’t engage with trolls and Internet tough guys.
    • Take it offline if possible.
  • Ask if they’ll block with robots.txt.
  • If all else fails, attempt to scrub the listing.

How do you scrub the listing? You take up more shelf space. Sub-domains, product sites, international domains, social media profiles, articles on third-party sites, micro-sites to address specific concerns, blended search results. In order for this to work, the content needs to be unique. Sites may require link building before they rank.

Risky techniques include Wikipedia, Pay-Per-Post, ReviewMe (for scrubbing), Google bowling, and deceptive practices.

There are better ways to do rep management than getting into risky behavior. He doesn’t recommend any of these ways.


  • Reputations problems are easier to prevent than to fix.
  • Customer Service 101: Engage and don’t be defensive.
  • If you must scrub the listings, take a diversified approach.

Last up is Tony Wright. He’s only got ten slides. Yay!

First, story time: Paris, Texas.

The facts:

  • Conservative town
  • Homosexual elementary school principal
  • Vindictive lover
  • Hot-headed District Attorney threatening violence
  • Small town politics with a very involved audience

Horrible things ensued. Naturally. The Internet is serious business, folks.

This story was posted on Topix. But they couldn’t keep it down. The ADA was reprimanded, lost his bid and nearly his job.

The lessons:

  • Emotions can ruin an online reputation.
  • Sometimes responding makes it worse.
  • If you are an employer, you need to have policies in place to keep employees from responding inappropriately
  • Threatening violence on the Internet can be dangerous, but most of the time it makes you look like an idiot.

Reputation branding and influence are the not same. Work on reputation first, the others will follow. Don’t let good branding get in the way of a good reputation. Logo police are a problem. If a fan is using your logo, don’t freak out about it and send a Cease and Desist. Monitor your reputation (Trackur, Google Alerts, etc.) and create a formula for keeping your reputation solid. Deal with snags as they come up.

To create a formula, assign weight to each element below and use that to prioritize response.

Items to consider:

  • Reach of the venue
  • Influence of the poster
  • Tone of the content (get three people to average the tone)
  • Follow up on the post (watch for on-topic vs. off-topic)
  • Viral effects


Have you seen fake complaints on Rip Off Report, etc., by competitors?

Tony: No, not fake complaints. That’s dangerous.

Brian: No, there are enough trolls out there who will do it on their own. Fake isn’t needed.

Do you have suggestions or ideas around building activity with your loyalists?
Lauren: Starbucks is really good about it on Twitter. Take the opposite approach from cell phone providers. They reward you for switching. Reward people for staying.

Tony: A caveat — giving away free stuff can backfire. Microsoft sent out Vista to bloggers but it turned into a PR nightmare because it came off as bribery. It’s about authenticity in social media. When someone says something nice about you, thank them. If you have their physical address, thank them with a hand-written note. Publically thank them.

Jessica gives a few examples, including Microsoft Ambassadors.

Brian: In many cases, engagement is all that’s needed.

Should you be combating negative pay per click ads on brand names?

Tony: Make sure you’ve filed your proper trademark with Google. Engage them first and find out why they’re doing it. If they’re really hurting your business and they won’t stop, then yes, you might want to sue. But he always advocates taking the high road.

Brian: It depends whether or not it’s malicious.

Jessica: If you have multiple domains, throw up ads for those sites on those keywords to create noise.

Brian says that if you take Jessica’s approach, you should do it with different Google Accounts.

Tony: Non-response can be a very effective technique.

Why doesn’t eBay go after

Lauren: They can’t really do anything about it, because it’s not making money. They also have terrible reputation management. Jennifer Convertibles has the same problem. Positions three through six are hate sites, but they don’t want to spend the money to push them down.

Brian: If they sued, they’d probably lose. It’s free speech.

Tony: They’d have to prove consumer confusion and no one will think PayPalSucks is PayPal. Before you contact your lawyer, you might just want to contact the person. Don’t say anything that will get you in trouble, but try talking first.

Lauren: Offer them $500 to $2000. Sometimes that will work.

Who should take ownership of rep management? Should you do it yourself?

Jessica: I’m a fan of doing things yourself, but not in this case.

All agree that you should train brand advocates in-house but you should hire a social media person to help you set it up. You need legal, customer service, product management and IT involved. You need someone with political capital in the company on board or the legal department will try to kill your social media campaign. Keep legal in the loop but out of your planning meetings.

Susan Esparza is former managing editor at Bruce Clay Inc., and has written extensively for clients and internal publications. Along with Bruce Clay, she is co-author of the first edition of Search Engine Optimization All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies.

See Susan's author page for links to connect on social media.

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