6: The Online Brand

It's implied that firms do not give adequate attention to brand image when they venture online, and this is a serious failure. Increasingly, online becomes the first meaningful contact a person has with a brand, and they form an impression of a company based on what they find. The impression they get is critical in determining whether they will be attracted to or repelled by a brand.

Specifically, not all businesses should seek to use every option available. In some instances, a particular presentation technology is well-suited to a specific brand, such as using video to promote a video game or audio to showcase the skills of a speaker. In other cases, a technology is inappropriate or even counterproductive. To be efficient and effective, it's necessary to consider your options carefully.

Managing Your Brand

The basic concepts of branding apply online: you want to present information that is accurate, positive, and on-message. More importantly, genuineness and authenticity are critical in this medium, and if you present an image that is incongruous, it will have a negative impact on the audience.

In the Web 2.0 world, it is also interactive: the impression of your brand is created more by what others say about you than the claims you make about yourself. In this way, it's more in the nature of publicity than paid advertising.

(EN: A bit more on that: giving a press release to a reporter doesn't guarantee it will make print - or if it does, it will not be verbatim. Often, a publication will rewrite press releases using a different slant, bringing in facts from other sources to create a story for its own audience. This is very similar to what happens online.)

The author gives the example of Apple, which manages its online brand by releasing relatively small amounts of information to create buzz about future products. The company's rabid fan base engages in a great deal of chatter and speculation, heightening anticipation, until the product is ready for release and the company then goes public with a detailed product information that is eagerly consumed.

This is contrasted to Microsoft, which uses a large audience of beta testers who, in spite of non-disclosure agreements, leak a lot of detailed information about an early and unpolished version of the software. The problem is that software in development undergoes many changes, and when the final version is released and much of the beta functionality is not included, there is widespread disappointment with a product that does not meet expectations.

The point of this contrast is that, while "openness" is a tenet of social media, it can work against you. Even though the intention is to release as much information as early as possible, and even if it is handed out with disclaimers, the better approach is clearly to be careful in managing what information gets out until you can provide information that is reliable.

From there, the author switches to the problem of internal leaks: employees will use social media to publish information you rather they would not, and handling this problem is delicate: a draconian company that silences its people by threat and punishment harms its own credibility and public image; one that is too lenient ends up with a lot of employees leaking sensitive or inaccurate information.

The author suggests that guidelines are necessary to controlling this without being overbearing, but fizzles on a solution, suggesting only to tell employees not to post anything they wouldn't be able to defend in court.

Your Personal Brand

There's a tangent about Facebook content, as many people clearly believe that things will only be seen by close friends, and post unflattering images and inappropriate posts. They don't consider that the image is associated to everything they post, and when employers use Facebook to check up on candidates.

(EN: Some heartburn on this, as the question arises as to whether a company should be using Facebook to pry into the personal lives of people. Employers claim it's about discovering "personality" but I strongly suspect that it's a desire to check up on religious beliefs, political attitudes, and other things that employers are not legally permitted to inquire about. The entire point of social media is casual interaction, and if it becomes a medium in which Big Brother is always watching, people are then encouraged not only to be reluctant to interact, but also disingenuous in the details they share, for fear of reprisal.)

For people who are starting off with creating their personal online brand, or those who wish to check up on how their personal brand is faring, the author suggests some basic steps:

There's some various other advice about online image and behavior, such as not using a silly e-mail address, minding your language, consider distancing yourself (or un-connecting) with friends whose behavior is questionable, etc.

The author also mentions privacy settings, particularly on Facebook, in which you can limit the amount of information that people have. (EN: The warning being that FB has a bad reputation for ignoring this, or making changes that cause private information to suddenly become public.)


One of the hackneyed jokes about the Internet is that you never know who is behind a screen name. Presenting a false identity has been used by criminals and pranksters, sometimes with serious consequences, and more than one journalist has been exposed for using pseudonyms to fake sources to give substantiation to patent lies.

When it comes to branding, authenticity is expected: there's little point in presenting a fictitious persona to build the image of a real person or a real brand. Eventually, your real identity will be discovered and there will be disappointment and mistrust.

But it also brings up another point: whether it is appropriate for a person who speaks for a company to hide behind a brand. The author's take on the situation is you should always disclose your real name, even when speaking on behalf of a firm, and that "you should never use a false identity or pseudonym to hide your true identity."

(EN: I had a great deal of heartburn over the author's extreme viewpoint on this topic, but refrained from making editorial changes to the perspective presented here. However, I am inclined to disagree with the notion that it's always necessary or desirable to disclose personal information. Clearly, the author has never worked with someone who was the target of a vindictive or violent predator, such as an abusive former spouse, or who has been harassed in their private life for something they did or said at the behest of an employer. It's particularly ironic that she insists on complete openness right after disclosing that she sees no problem with companies using social media to pry into the personal lives of employees and candidates to discriminate against them for their religious beliefs, political opinions, or association with other people. My sense is there are many valid reasons for remaining anonymous in as well as instances in which there is no benefit to disclosing personal information to those who don't need it and might abuse it. I'm not advocating for the opposite extreme of complete secrecy, but against both extremes - it is not a situation in which always/never should be applied.)

The Potential for Reputation Damage

Providing a service on which other people will communicate puts a firm in a position where its reputation can be harmed by allowing people to behave in a manner that offends other users; but it can also be harmed by being to restrictive of the users who leverage your service. Finding a comfortable middle ground can be difficult.

The author also suggests there's potential harm in participating in social media at all: if you provide al list of participants and someone links from your profile to find something objectionable on the pages of one of your followers, you suffer guilt by association: this is the kind of person who prefers your brand. This is likewise a precarious position: while you don't want to be publicly linked to certain people, neither do you want to appear overly demanding of your customers.

(EN: This is an area where companies stray into megalomania: you don't get to choose who uses your product or likes your brand. Brands get into a lot of trouble this way - the firm wishes or believes a brand to appeal to affluent white suburbanites and seem horrified, not to mention bigoted, when poor urban blacks express a liking of the brand. The better approach is to accept the fact that this is a valid market segment and return, rather than shun, their affection - even if it means that the kinds of customers you get are not the same as you had hoped or expected. It's just not something you can control, or should even try.)

The author also speaks to the miscreants of the Internet - people who will go to great lengths to smear a brand for the sheer joy of seeing what kind of damage they can do, and run a campaign of "vitriol, harassment, and spite."

It's mentioned that these sorts of attacks are nothing new, but merely the occurrence of a problem that already existed in traditional media. It's amplified by the convenience with which a person can post remarks for others to see (much easier to make a snarky remark on Facebook then send a letter to a newspaper), and there is no editorial buffer who will filter such complaints.

The power of the Internet is that it takes only minutes to reach millions of people - and this is true whether it's a company that wishes to communicate positive information about its brand or a detractor that wishes to communicate negative information.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that individuals have greater credibility than companies do in this channel and garner more sympathy. Firms that react harshly against their critics often suffer greater damage from their reaction than the incident to which they reacted - word gets out that they are being hostile to customers, and the reaction calls even more attention to the incident than it would have gotten on its own.

(EN: The author doesn't provide much in the way of advice for handling the issue, and my sense is it's because she's wrongheaded about the nature of the problem, pandering to the conception that brands are innocent victims of free-floating pathological hatred. There are pranksters out there, as well as people who are genuinely insane, but they tend to be rather few and don't put much energy into smear campaigns. A prolonged attack is not a chance event inflicted on a random victim - the brand did something to provoke it, or to sustain it, and in most cases would be better advised to check its own behaviour than to stereotype and dismiss those whom it has offended to the point that they retaliate. There can be no solution so long as you remain in denial of the cause.)