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25 May 2009 8:25am

HR managers are increasingly embracing social networking sites to identify and act on employee and customer gripes, but many employers still aren’t doing enough to deal with “more insidious” online reputation attacks, such as logo infringements and false links.

Employers across the globe have spent billions of dollars in recent years building a “perimeter defence” – consisting of firewalls and user-authentication systems – to protect their revenue and data, says BrandProtect senior vice president, Michael Kiefer, in a recent whitepaper.

Yet more than 90 per cent of employers, Kiefer estimates, do little to manage their online reputations, and as little as 10 per cent of “security budgets”, on average, are allocated to external threats.

An employer needs to do more than “reactively protect its data”, he says. “It must also proactively safeguard its reputation online, where references to its corporate name alone can number in the millions.”

Kiefer says that criminals and competitors often target the “weakest link” – the customer. Online customers, he says, are easily compromised and used to either attack organisations or “harvest” online accounts.

“While threats come in a variety of forms, most represent some form of ‘unauthorised linking’,” he says – through the improper use of a corporate logo or trademark.

The logo might be used to link a customer to a competitor’s website, or divert consumer traffic to illegal or offensive material.

“The threats are varied and often escape detection,” Kiefer says. “In each case, a major institution’s reputation is compromised and a customer is misled or defrauded.”

Clean-up costs can be huge, he says, and damage to the brand immeasurable.

Employers, therefore, should:

identify competing URLs, or those with similar names that might be used to falsely represent the company;

engage with their internet service provider and law enforcement agencies to identify risk mitigation activities and block unauthorised links;

establish priorities, determining which risks are critical and which are moderate or can be dealt with later; and

create an “abuse box” where business partners, employees and customers can report web infractions.
Kiefer notes that although online security appears, on the surface, to be an IT function, “mitigating reputational risk is everybody’s business”.

Employers, he says, must “socialise reputational risk” at all levels and departments across an organisation, from HR and management to IT.

Leading employers keep tabs on online content
Some 95 per cent of employers that proactively protect their online-brand reputation experience year-over-year performance improvements, says HR researcher Jeff Zabin in an Aberdeen Group report.

Leading organisations, he says, keep “close tabs on consumer-generated content to identify and act upon potential brand-devaluation issues at the earliest possible moment”.

Online-brand protection is still in its infancy, but employers must act now with the “explosion of social media” making it particularly critical – and challenging – for a company to protect its name, Zabin says.

He recommends that employers:
hire or appoint an online-brand-protection director, whose responsibilities would include the day-to-day analysis of consumer-generated online content, monitoring other online brand issues, and tracking and measuring outcomes;

define best practices for using social media to “derive actionable insights”;

develop time-sensitive performance metrics, aimed at reducing the time between the identification of a potential online threat and the delivery of the information to the relevant decision maker;

adopt media-monitoring technologies, such as “text-mining” software;

train selected employees to engage in online conversations, ensuring they have the requisite level of experience and diplomacy skills;

track positive-to-negative consumer sentiment, looking for deviations in “normal sentiment patterns” and determining the cause; and

measure actual cost savings and revenue outcomes to justify brand-protection expenses and ensure future executive buy-in.


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