The 8 Essentials of ‘Brand Security’

Bob Pearson
Bob Pearson

Right now, spammers are thinking through how to hijack your news in order to direct people to their sites. Hackers are pinging your sites to figure out where they can get behind your firewall. Antagonists are planning how they will upset you via the media and physical actions. There is an active set of people who are here to use your brand for their purposes. It is clear we do not want any unknown individuals to have the ability to hijack our brands for their own purposes, whatever they may be. Part of our mission is not only to promote our brands, but protect them as well.

Yet, when we think of “brand security,” we often think in terms of information technology, software and solutions that are done by “somebody else.” This thinking is actually incorrect. In fact, it is incumbent upon communicators to learn how to improve the security of their brand.

Here are eight examples of what it means to improve security for your brand.

1. Lock-up all URLs and sub-domains. If we think like spammers, what they want do to is to buy all URLs related to your brand and then lock up all sub-domains on social channels, e.g. YouTube, Twitter. There are often as many as 100 varieties of URLs and sub-domains of interest to a spammer, and this list only grows as we talk about global brands.

The best step is to proactively lock up URL’s and sub-domains before you publicly announce a new brand’s name or a campaign that will have major investment.

2. Build a central repository. We all know that the weakest link leads to the easiest entry point for a hacker to get into your servers. The weakest link often is a social channel or a website in a country off the radar that’s not well maintained.

Do you know who has the user name and passwords for every channel or site today? Is it in the hands of your company or an agency? Does more than one person have it in case that person leaves?

Your step here is to develop a policy so that all usernames and passwords for all websites and social channels (in all countries) are all housed in a central repository that is well protected.

3. Know your top 100 search queries. Identify the top 100 search queries, in order of volume, for your brand. Look at what those queries are and also look at the first screen of each one. Is that the brand story you want to tell? What are people actually interested in when they are not pleased with your brand or your category? How are these queries shifting and what does that tell you about trends?

Your next step is to create this top 100 and then determine, via analytics, who is actually shaping your story via search.

4. Know your antagonists. The good news is that human beings always follow patterns online. This empowers you to understand exactly how your antagonists are likely to act. This is small data. Imagine identifying 5,000 people to track for a large brand. That’s not really all that much, yet it defines the voice of unrest.

Your step is to identify all antagonists for your brand. Then, track what they have been doing and saying for the last year. And see what this tells you about the relevance of your issue to the antagonist. You’ll see what you should be doing to prepare.

5. Identify issues before they hit the press. More than 90% of issues for any brand are known in advance. The key is that you identify what they are and build a multicountry, multifunction team, informally, to share what members are learning on a continual basis.

Often, because we know an issue may present itself, when we see the first public mention of it, it becomes a high-level alert. If we don’t have a system in place, we tend to react to what media or social media have flagged for us. At that point we’ve lost.

6. Know what reputational triggers matter. We have a tendency to think that all attributes of a brand’s reputation matter. However, what we see is that, at best, 25% of the attributes you track really matter. The majority don’t. The key is that you know the true weighting of each attribute, so your radar is adjusted as knowledge pours in, good or bad.

The next step is to take your reputational attributes and see how they stack up in all channels of online media. With the right algorithm, you’ll be surprised by what you see.

7. Understand the value of each voice. When you are thinking of commenting on social channels, ask yourself if you have analyzed the reach and influence of the person you will respond to.

When you do this routinely, you realize that often, those who don’t like your brand are simply talking to themselves. You may decide to respond to requests large and small, but know whom you are reaching out to and what is likely to happen. Ensure you speak with the voice of the brand on a consistent basis.

Your next step here is to develop a model to understand who you are responding to before you do, so you know their reach, influence and likely response.

8. Improving your search position. This is a longer topic, so it is important to point out what doesn’t work well. Stop stuffing links with code. Stop trying to game the system. What works is what communicators are awesome at doing. It is real content that gets shared by your target audience that matters. It is having the right keywords within this content that matters.

Your next step is to stop listening to self-proclaimed search experts using tools that don’t work well. Focus on telling your story with the right language to the right people, leading to sharing of what matters to your brand. Keep it simple.

The Concept of ‘Mutual Intelligibility’

It’s more important than ever to monitor the languages of the online world. As communicators spend more time online, language relationships become a key to effective brand listening. “Mutual Intelligibility” means that because you speak language X, you are likely to understand language Y, dialect Z and follow closely what is said in the languages that are one degree of separation from your mother tongue. Basically, what the other party is saying is “intelligible” enough to follow.

All multilanguage customers, which is the majority of the world, have a comfort zone of languages and dialects they will learn from. It’s not about one language anymore.

Mutual Intelligibility listening shows us exactly how an issue is likely to evolve and cross languages and countries. For example, if Czech is your main language, you may also be following Slovak and Polish. If you are Danish, you may be tracking what is said in Norwegian and Swedish. If you areSerbo-Croatian, you may understand Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin and Serbian. If you are living in China, you may understand Mandarin and Jin, which is a dialect of Mandarin spoken by 45 million people.

And of course, Americans, well, we would say we understand the dialects of the South or the Bronx, but not much more. Not sure what to do there.

What it means is that when you have a listening program in place for your brand, you should automatically track the related languages and dialects of the country or language of origin for the issue you are tracking. In an increasingly globalized economy, not to mention the Web, this should become standard for brands and organizations. —B.P.


Bob Pearson is President of W20 Group and author of “Pre-Commerce: How Companies and Customers are Transforming Business Together” (John Wiley and Sons). He can be reached at

This article originally appeared in the August 18, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.