Do brands need protection?


Guardian Online carries an interesting story today about the launch of a new brand management product from Creston – a holding company for a number of UK-based marketing services agencies.

I couldn’t find any mention of the product on the Creston website, save for a brief mention in today’s news release about their interim results for the six months ended 30 September 2006 (page 2, paragraph 3):

Highlights…launch of ‘e-Influence’, an online brand management and influencer initiative
between the PR and MARCOMS Divisions.

The tone of the Guardian article struck me straight away as the product is clearly being positioned as a defensive tool for brands against the social media space.

I did wonder whether it was the angle the journalist had chosen to take to stir up a reaction, but the quote from Creston’s chief executive, Don Elgie, suggests that Creston sees this as being a defence for companies against the threat of social media, and blogs in particular:

What has happened with the growth of the internet is that brands and manufacturers have lost control of their brand reputation and that is because of bloggers.

The article suggests the new product will be competing against the blog monitoring offering from Nielsen Buzzmetrics, among the host of other blog tracking services that are available
Details of the service are sketchy but Creston expects to be able to tell clients:

how to correct false information on blogs and how to deal with legitimate complaints doing the rounds in cyberspace.

From what I can see of this service, and Creston, it strikes me as a service from a company that doesn’t understand how organisations should engage with the blogosphere.

I have to admit my perception of Creston is a rumour I heard on the grapevine earlier this year that a Creston company was considering introducing a policy banning employees from blogging, not only in work time, but in their own time at home too. For me that’s short sighted on two counts, but that’s another story.

This new product positions the blogosphere primarily as a threat to companies that is to be defended against, rather than a community that should be actively engaged with (on positive and negative reputational issues for the company).

If my PR or marketing agency were to position a social media strategy in this way, I’d fire them.

At a general level, the best way to manage a brand and the blogosphere’s relationship and impact on the brand is to actively participate. Find a way to engage with the community, participate in the conversations and hold true the open and transparent values of the community.

Sure, this will mean different things for different organisations in different sectors, but the principle is learn and participate, not block and rebuff.
If organisations take a defensive stance and put up the barricades against this small but growing community, they risk losing out to their more open and positive competitors who do engage the blogosphere.

Many of the key word of mouth opinion formers offline get their information from online sources, so how an organisation operates online can rapidly percolate through into perception and reputation offline.

It’ll be interesting to see if Creston can help me understand more about the service they’re offering – after all you’d hope they’re using their own tool to track how they’re being talked about in the blogosphere.