Who would you say is responsible for brand protection within your organisation? Your IT Department/Internet Security Team or everyone that works for the company?

There are many different types of brand abuse that can occur online and include publishing false claims or just simply impersonating a company in order to mislead customers.

But what about brand abuse that comes from within your organisation?

A bank employee might post a comment on their Twitter account advising that the bank is going to be taken over by the government. That employee can’t confirm this information – they simply heard a rumour in the office – but maybe they have friends who conduct business with the bank and they want to give them a “heads-up”. This leaked information, whether true or not, could lead to customers becoming afraid and start withdrawing their money from the bank. The employee may not have even realised the ramifications of their Twitter post, however, the bank would most likely investigate the source of the information and that employee could risk being fired.

You could say that this is simply free speech, however, all employees need to be aware that they represent the company they work for and anything they say or do, regardless of whether it’s on their personal social media pages, can damage the brand of the organisation. In the same way, if an employee is wearing a company uniform, or clothing with the company logo on it, they are representing the company and anything they say or do will affect the brand.

Everyone who works for an organisation, should be responsible for brand protection.

Brand abuse vs data leakage

FraudWatch International recently had a case where a document, containing an organisation’s logo on a person’s bank statement, was published to an open website. The organisation requested that this brand abuse should be removed, however, technically, this was not possible.

Yes, the document contained the organisation’s logo, however, the content of the document (the bank statement), belonged to an individual person, and they had much more to lose from having their personal banking information being published on a website, than the organisation did by having their logo published.

Distinction between brand abuse and freedom of speech

Companies are already aware that they need to protect themselves from incidents such as phishing attacks (where emails are sent impersonating the company), malware attacks (where internal PCs may become infected), social media attacks (where fake profiles might be set up) and brand abuse attacks, however, companies cannot control freedom of speech.

Let’s say that a disgruntled customer posts a comment on their Twitter page that says, “I will never buy food from Supermarket A” and attaches the company’s logo. Whilst this may hurt the brand of Supermarket A, it is not technically brand abuse. It is just freedom of speech. If the supermarket was to put a request into Twitter to take down the comment, Twitter would refuse, sighting freedom of speech.

On the other hand, if someone was to set up a fake Supermarket A Twitter account and then write a comment saying, “Supermarket B sells out-of-date meat products”, then Supermarket A would have a legitimate claim in getting that Twitter account taken down, as they are at risk of being sued by Supermarket B for providing false information.

Companies need to understand where freedom of speech ends and brand abuse begins. Freedom of speech may still be affecting a brand, however we need to address this differently. Corporations cannot control people’s personal accounts. Supermarket A might choose to address the customer’s concerns and offer them some type of compensation and this could result in the customer posting a positive comment the next time to inform others how well the situation was handled.

Brand protection

When you think about Brand protection, imagine yourself as a brand. Would you publish naked photos of yourself online? Probably not, as it would ruin your reputation. What if you were to turn up for an interview with messy hair and wearing torn clothing? Your “brand” would be damaged the minute you walked into the room. First impressions are very important. You always want to protect your reputation, or brand, in any way you can.

Brand protection for an organisation is the same thing, but on a much larger scale.