Spooky Truths About Online Brand Defense

By Thompson Knox
Originally published in The St. Louis Women's Journal, October 1, 2011

 It’s time for black cats and orange pumpkins, again. I’m writing this article well before October and yet I’ve already gotten my first direct email about Halloween costumes. Wow, smart marketing. For our own celebration of All Hallows’ Eve, we’re going to learn about one of the most frightening topics for folks online today. That is, if they’ve even thought about it. And, if they haven’t (perhaps like you?), then be prepared for your sideburns to turn a shade of silver that even Grandpa Munster (may he rest in peace) would envy.

I call it…queue eerie backgroundmusic…Online Brand Defense. BOO! Smart corporations are scrambling to get it under control, but this stuff hits us all in a most vulnerable spot—our brand—whether a personal brand, a family brand, or a company brand. 

I, now, think of my name as a unique brand, with the whole LastName2 composition of it. Something I never gave much thought about until I started using “Thompson Knox” at my first newspaper job in college and people started to comment. And not just a few people, LOTS of people. Not just about how "cool" my name was, but it was unique and memorable. Isn't that the goal of a good brand? It’s what I wanted out of my brand, so I set to work trying to protect it online.
After locking down many variations of my name as domain names, I also decided that I didn't want anyone else to use my brand, er, name for anything else on the Web. Not for a Gmail address. Not for an eBay buyer or seller ID. Not for a Facebook vanity URL. Not for a Twitter handle. Not even for a moniker on popular forums that interest me. This task proved harder than expected.
That line of thinking could easily become exponential as the Internet is massive. But, when you think about the ramifications of NOT doing it, the task seems more of a requirement than a hobby. The implications for business are obvious. You avoid competitors or unhappy customers hijacking your brand (e.g. COMPANYSUCKS.COM), but what about in your PERSONAL life?
Here's my scary story:
A person maliciously creates a Facebook account in your child's name and posts awful things about her classmates or, worse, even her teachers. What kind of negative PR would that cost sweet, sweet [insert name here]? It would certainly cause you a heap of trouble and perhaps even create some trust issues between you two before you found out the truth. Remember the awful story of Lori Drew and the role she played in the suicide of Megan Meier. Look up the sequel when someone impersonated Lori and created a blog called “Megan had it coming.” Look it up. Quite a drama.
Frightening enough for you? I thought so. I worry about it and don't even have kids yet. I've even considered it for my pugs. Note: Due to this article Jack Lemmon (Pug #3) will soon have his own Twitter feed and report catastrophic abuses like "unfair treat distribution" and "discriminatory petting practices" at the Knox household.
All pug jokes aside, campaigns we run for corporations are extensive, but here's how to cover the basics. And, parents; consider this as urgently for your newborn just as you would for your elementary-to-high-school children (though, some may have already beaten you to the punch):

1. Think of the variations.

FirstName+ LastName. FirstName+MiddleName+LastName. Do they have a suffix? Consider it. Then fall back on what you think is most important.

2. Start with domain names.

It's a cheap insurance policy and you never know how they might come in handy—honestly, they’ll thank you sooner than you know. It makes a nifty gift! Grab the .com for sure. There are lots of suffixes out there and more coming soon. Oh, and for goodness sake, block anyone from getting their .XXX. The free sunrise period just ended, so saving them from a poor career choice will cost you just like the other general Top Level Domain listed above, but my
opinion—totally worth it.

3. Email accounts:AOL. Gmail. Hotmail. Yahoo.

Most of these are free so, other than time, there is not cost. Don't try to do this for every email provider in the world, just the biggest and/or most common.

4. Social Networks.

Think of the top sites, and include MySpace, FourSquare, and LinkedIn (that’s a big one).
Note: This is the short list. Obviously, you should…

5. Brainstorm and revisit every three months.

What’s the newest,hottest site on the internet? No one knows what next tech innovation will create another possible opportunity for someone to appear assomething they are not—your closest relative. Now, go watch The Exorcist again, and tell me which is more terrifying?

To read the original posting, please visit The St. Louis Women's Journal.