If you haven’t experienced this, consider yourself lucky—but definitely don’t consider yourself immune.
These days, consumers are more vigilant than ever when it comes to spotting brands they know alongside objectionable content online. Hell, it seems like some people even make a hobby out of searching for just these instances… and putting brands on blast because of it.
That’s why, in marketing departments and agencies across the globe, there’s a huge focus right now on brand safety.
If you’re worried about your brand safety, or if you’re not even sure what to be worried about in the first place, we’ve got your back. Here’s a look at what you need to know, and what you can do to keep your brand safe from appearing where you don’t want it to.
What is “Brand Safety”?
Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:
“Brand safety is a set of measures that aim to protect the image and reputation of brands from the negative or damaging influence of questionable or inappropriate content when advertising online.”
What exactly does this mean for marketers? Here are just a few things you need to keep in mind when considering your brand safety:
- Are your ads appearing alongside content that could damage your reputation by association?
- Is your brand featured in user-generated content that’s questionable or not-so-consumer-friendly?
- Is your brand’s story, your team, or your visuals being used in a non-approved way?
- Are conversations around your brand happening online that may not be beneficial to your reputation?
This is a lot. Honestly, asking a marketer or a brand manager to keep track of everything happening around your brand is a big ask—and it only gets more complicated, more confusing, and harder to pin down as your company grows.
That’s why it’s crucial to set some standards for your brand safety early and to make a plan to preserve it as you keep running forward.
Social Is Key - But It’s More Than That (And It’s All Connected)
Obviously, social media is a crucial space for any brand to build awareness, cultivate and audience, and craft your reputation. These days, it’s as close as a brand can get to an invitation to the zeitgeist… but it can also be a brand safety landmine.
Keeping track of your brand safety—mentions, appearances, and conversations—across the social media landscape can be tough. That’s why social companies like Facebook have taken pretty strong steps recently to help brands monitor and preserve their brand’s reputation online. Other tools, like social media monitoring and listening solutions, can also help keep an eye on where your brand is being mentioned and in what context.
But, at the end of the day, social media is also just one element to consider when protecting your brand safety. Other advertising avenues like Google Ads can, if not managed closely, place your ad next to objectionable content, sometimes without your even knowing.
Even physical advertising—including print ads, exterior advertising like billboards, and collateral—can all find themselves in just the wrong context if you’re not careful.
5 Tips to Protect Your Brand Safety
Let’s lay something out right at the start: you won’t be able to protect your brand from everything.
In some cases, you simply won’t have control over what the world says or thinks about your brand, and there’s not much you can do about it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t set yourself up to prevent issues where possible, and to respond with confidence when your brand safety is threatened.
Set Your Ground Rules
If you haven’t yet launched your brand, great—you can make your ground rules to guide your marketing strategy from the get-go. But even if you’re already running ads now, you can still set up a few general guidelines to help prevent brand safety issues moving forward.
First step: make a quick list of your most related content (pretty standard for most campaign planning). This is the contextual information that will help guide your strategy when you think about where to place your ads, where you use your brand to engage audiences, and in what communities you try and make a splash with your messaging.
Then, do the opposite: what are your most important “no-go” zones? Consider the context around your brand, and which communities you want to make sure your brand doesn’t go anywhere near.
Are there specific websites you don’t want to be associated with? Worried about delivering alongside bad new reports? These are considerations to think about before you go launching ads, so you can try and avoid damaging your brand reputation as a result.
Consider Ad Context & Targeting
What you say in your ads or in your marketing language is crucial, obviously—you don’t want to accidentally say something that will be construed as offensive or tone-deaf. But, increasingly, where you deliver your messaging can also be a huge risk factor for brand safety if you’re not careful.
For example: running a campaign for a fast food restaurant? You might want to think about placing your ads or engaging audiences around, say, video games—a highly related audience with a lot of potential for building customers.
But you should think about which communities you’re targeting: you may not want your brand appearing alongside super-violent games, or ones that generate a lot of controversy in the media.
Likewise, you probably don’t want your fast food restaurant marketing to individuals focused on weight loss, dieting, or (worse) medical conditions exacerbated by high-calorie foods. While this might be a “related” topic to fast food, it’s certainly not a valuable audience for your brand.
Watch Your UGC & Influencers
We’ve discussed before just how important user-generated content can be for building engagement with your audiences, and for smaller up-and-coming brands it can be a crucial tool for creating organic visibility in a crowded marketplace.
But here’s the thing: once you turn over control to your audience (and the world at large), you lose a little bit of the security around your brand’s reputation.
That’s why it’s really important to keep a close eye on your UGC at every step. If you prompt your audience to create their own content with your brand, keep things tight to your core messaging: make your prompts specific, and don’t leave a lot of room for abuse. And, of course, if you spot a bad actor trying to drag your brand down, do what you can to minimize exposure before things get out of hand.
On that note...
Keep An Eye On Your Mentions
Social listening is a term that’s thrown around a lot these days—and for good reason. More often than you might think, conversations are happening online that might involve your brand without your ever realizing it. This can be an untapped goldmine for your brand awareness… or it can be an unmoderated space for users to air grievances about your brand in the open.
This is really one space where you can’t do much to prevent bad mentions, but you can put your full force behind responding to users and mitigating bad reactions before they get out of hand.
If someone is trash talking your business online, respond from an official account, and try to take things private if you can.
If you notice a trend starting, you might want to get together with your PR team and plan a more coordinated response before you lose control of the narrative.
Remember: just because you’re not participating in a space doesn’t mean users aren’t talking about you there. That’s why it pays to keep an eye on things like review platforms, new social media platforms, and even spaces like Facebook Groups where conversations can happen out of sight, but with high impact for local or related audiences.
Watch Out For Imposters & Identity Thieves
You might be surprised at how often brands run into headaches around imposters online—but, in reality, it’s a trick as old as marketing itself, from phony phone call scammers to today’s bogus Twitter accounts and beyond.
Case in point: we work closely with a local fast food chain with a limited delivery area. When a scammer started offering to deliver their food even further afield than usual—with, of course, a few bucks added on for “delivery fees”—the result was some pretty unhappy customers wondering where their orders were. Fortunately, we were able to sort things out with a quick explainer… but it certainly caused a headache for a few days.
That’s why it’s always a smart idea (and, increasingly, a necessity) to regularly check your brand name across social media for instances of fraud. Social listening tools can help with this, but sometimes it’s as simple as running through your branded hashtags or giving a quick search for your brand name on the major social platforms.
Also, if your brand hasn’t yet made the jump to some of the newer social media platforms (like Tik Tok or Triller), you may want to at least nab your brand’s usernames early, even if you don’t plan on posting or engaging there. That way, you won’t miss out on the opportunity—or lose it to a fraudster—if that platform does take off.
If you do notice someone using your brand name or likeness on social, doing some mischievous deeds or simply wreaking havoc on your brand, don’t panic… at least, not immediately. Take steps to report the page or profile to the social platform, and have your ID verification ready for when they take action. If needed, make a statement about the incident to your fans, and give them a little confidence you’re on top of things before they get out of hand.
Brand Safety on Social Media Can Be Tough… But You’re Tougher
Look, at the end of the day, social media is an amazing tool for brands. Using a few simple platforms, a good brand with a smart strategy can reach millions of users in an instant—all without having to pay a dime, if you don’t want to. There’s a low barrier of entry, and high chance for reward.
Unfortunately, all these great benefits also mean it’s pretty easy for a dedicated scammer or would-be brand sinker to do some serious damage to your hard work... if you’re not careful.
If you’re worried about protecting your brand on social media, follow these steps and you’ll be in good shape. If you’re still not sure how to protect your image, or if you feel like you need a little backup to keep your brand on the up-and-up, well… you’re in the right place. Give us a shout (or shoot us a message on your favorite social platform) and our team of social experts will be more than happy to jump to assistance.
- Megan O'Keefe
- Social Media & Content Specalist