Protecting Your Brand on the Internet
There’s plenty of good out there online, but protecting one’s personal and professional reputation is becoming serious business.
While browsing Facebook recently I noticed a picture of a pet business storefront. The caption was something along the lines of, “I just visited this store and saw the employee hitting a puppy for escaping from its exercise pen. I’ve called the authorities, but they tell me there’s nothing they can do. Please everyone don’t shop here!”
My first reaction was anger. I thought, “I hope this place is shut down.” I started to look through the comments and everyone was outraged. There were comments from people saying that they had seen things like that in the past and that’s why they would never shop there. The post was quickly shared among animal lovers. Some of the comments were borderline threatening. There were a few comments from people trying to stand up for the business saying the owners would never tolerate that and they would look into it. Those comments were even attacked, probably by people who had never been in the store.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the many other social media sites are wonderful. They are great resources with which to connect people to your business. They also have changed the world of pet rescue. Animal stories seem to go viral faster than any other story. I am amazed at how many animal-related posts get attention and get shared. I can post about the neighborhood mechanic who butchered a brake job on my vehicle, but it doesn’t get shared across the Internet and picked up by the local media.
Then there is Internet vigilantism that loves to deal with animal issues. In 2009, a 14-year-old posted videos on YouTube of him torturing a cat. The videos quickly were reported and removed, but not before people had copied them and distributed them across many forums, trying to find out who the kid was. Angry Internet users started tearing into the background that was shown in the video and the bogus usernames that he had used. They quickly found a connection to his Facebook account, which had pictures on it that lined up with the background in the video. Within two days, the teen had been arrested and the cat was taken to a veterinarian for care.
Pretty cool! I love stories like that, but the “angry Internet” tends to go for total destruction on cases such as this. Not only had people figured out who the teen was, but they also figured out what school he attended, who his parents were, his address and the name of his father’s business. The school was bombarded with calls wanting him expelled, and his dad’s website was attacked so much that his dad just had to shut the website down. With the thousands of review websites such as Yelp, the angry Internet was able to flood this guy’s business with bogus negative reviews and some very serious threats.
A friend of mine who owns a pet-related business recently discovered just what the Internet can do when people are enraged. An employee who was terminated on not favorable terms decided to make allegations of animal abuse. These allegations were picked up by Facebook users, the local media and many other social sites. The more the story spread, the more horrific it became. The problem is that none of the allegations were true; it was just a disgruntled employee making them up. But the damage was done.
Sure, someone could sue the person who started the claims, but the damage to the person’s business would not be undone. The story of a successful lawsuit would not be carried across the Internet in nearly the same numbers.
I am a firm believer in the good that comes with the Internet. I have seen some changes in the town I live in because of forums that allow things that are happening behind the scenes to get out in the open. Regarding our last local election, I firmly believe that Internet chatter was able to change the course of the election. I just don’t know what to do about the bad.
How do we guard ourselves against it? There are companies out there who will defend your reputation; there are attorneys who will go after the people for you, but ultimately, the damage is done. The only suggestion I can offer is to have a good Internet presence and a good following. If you are active on Facebook posting the good your business does and really interacting with your clientele, you will find that those people will come to your defense. If you have enough people chanting about how good you are, they can drown out the people who are trying to cause you harm.
B.C. Henschen, a certified pet care technician and an accredited pet trainer, is a partner in Platinum paws, a full-service pet salon and premium pet food store in Carmel, Ind. His knowledge of the pet food industry makes Platinum Paws the go-to store for pet owners who want more for their pet than a bag off a shelf.