Do you have a Google alert set on your name? If you're reading this--that is, if you're a clued-in business type who understands what marketing is--you have Google alerts set on your name, your company's name, and your competitors' names, just in case. Google alerts are a fantastic way to keep track of your brand reputation online.
A few months ago, I was surprised to see an alert come up with a link to Twitter. My name isn't unqiue, but it's unsual enough that I always check out a link to my name, to see if I'm being quoted or talked about. Usually it's just one of the other Laurel Suttons of the world popping up (perhaps we should form a club and give out membership cards), but this was different, and not in a good way. A Twitter account, bearing my name, had just been set up and was tweeting dozens of links a day back to a scammy-looking marketing site. There was no reason for it to have my name; I searched the site and even checked out the domain registration, on the off chance that someone with the same name had set it up.
I think they were trying to capitalize on my name. Look, I know I'm not a famous person--I'm not Seth Godin or Malcolm Gladwell or even Steve Manning. But in my little corner of marketing, where all the cool branding folks hang out, I'm the only one named Laurel Sutton. So the dude who runs said scammy-seeming marketing site decided that using my name might bring in some traffic; too bad for him I found out and decided to do something about it.
Quick aside: Big props to Twitter for yanking that account so quickly! All I had to do was prove who I was via proper identification, and the imposter was gone within a week.
So what's the point of this anecdote? Simply put, you cannot afford to neglect your online reputation, especially if your personal brand is part of your business brand (as it is for me). In the branding biz, we always tell our clients that your intellectual property--of which your brand is a big part--is your most valuable asset. There's only one you, with your name and your experience, and if someone hijacks that, you're going to have a hell of a time undoing the damage.
Think about the financial consequences of identity theft: credit ruined, jobs lost, trouble with the IRS. While online brand theft might not have such immediate real-world consequences, think of the long-term effects. If I had let alleged Scammy Guy continue to tweet scammy links to his scammy siteunder my name it would have shown up in Google forever and ever. Someone might have complained to Twitter about me. And it certainly could have negatively influenced anyone who was looking to hire Catchword for naming work.
The moral is: Protect your name, your own personal name, online. Be vigilant about the contexts in which your name appears. Set up those Google alerts, and read them. Be careful about pictures and posts on Facebook that have your name attached to them. The responsibility for your brand is yours and yours alone.
Because the Internet never forgets.
Laurel Sutton is a partner and co-founder at Catchword, a full-service naming firm.