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Tougher, and more crucial, to protect brand in social media age

A lot of people are talking about reputation management and brand-building in this new social media age.

Completely owning your brand is nearly impossible, and it's becoming harder and harder to protect it.

A trend I'm seeing that highlights the importance that companies are placing on this issue is the proliferation of job titles like chief reputation officer and vice-president of corporate reputation – executive-level communications experts responsible for ensuring all aspects of a brand's reputation are safeguarded.

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Social media have become a key tool for brand-building in many organizations. They're using it for research and development, marketing and customer service, all of which help to strengthen a brand.

Many companies have come up with creative ways to see a real return on their investment in social media, but organizations need to be careful because there have also been effects, such as liability for libel, privacy violations and damage to brand recognition.

I recently spent some time talking about industry trends with a company that comes in on the other side of the brand-building and reputation management equation, BrandProtect. Its main focus is on how to maintain your brand after you build it.

That's always been a big task, but when you add in Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other platforms, it becomes monumental.

"Most organizations think about Internet security in terms of what's going on inside their own IT infrastructure," said BrandProtect general manager Michael Kiefer.

"We focus on what's happening outside the company to constantly search for online threats associated with identity theft, social media and intellectual property abuse."

This approach goes above and beyond creating policies for employees' computer and Internet use, and elevates monitoring to an integral part of an organization's operations.

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"It is amazing how many companies spend time and money on policies and procedures, and then don't have a system in place to see if they're being followed," Mr. Kiefer said.

The issue is getting more pressing and becoming a growing legal concern.

In the United States, corporate-compliance regulations require companies to prove they are actively managing their online reputations; Canada often follows on things like this.

Perhaps the most well-known example of the dangers of what online chatter can do to a company's stock price is what happened to UAL Corp., at the time the parent company of United Airlines, in 2008.

An unlikely mistake led a six-year-old bankruptcy story about the company to be shared through the Bloomberg news service as if it was current. Within minutes, 15 million shares were sold, causing the stock price to plummet 75 per cent before trading was halted.

While BrandProtect was built to look for threats, the insights gained from comprehensive monitoring are a great way to learn more about consumer opinions and market trends to launch pro-active programs.

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Like so many other aspects of social media, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for monitoring.

Look for partners that have proven experience in your sector that mesh well with your size and budgets. It is important to have a system that can accommodate growth and entry into new social networks.

Opportunity-spotting is key, but make sure you keep this idea of protection in mind. It's likely to become more and more important.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic . She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

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About the Author
Social and Earned Media Columnist

A combination of entrepreneurial spirit and timing led Mia Pearson to co-found North Strategic, a communications agency built on the belief that social needs to be integrated into everything you do. A serial entrepreneur, Ms. More

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