Friday, September 30, 2011

Branding in the Age of Search Engines: Practical Guidelines for Professionals, Startups, Businesses

You are not what you are; you are not even what you think you are; you are what Google says you are. When people look for you, your company, your products or pretty much anything else the first thing they usually do is to turn to Google. This means that if you are not easy to find you will probably not be found. If you can't be found by a human searching on Google then the internal search functions that websites use to organize information will also not work.  The dominance of search engine algorithms in today's business means that branding has become at the same time more complex, but also more pervasive as people actively manage their personal brand. This means that everyone needs to know some basics about branding, even if they don't plan a career in this specialty. Here, then, are five things you need to know -- a mixture of technology-driven techniques and traditional methods.

1. BRAINSTORM MULTIPLE IDEAS.  Brands can be unsuitable for many reasons. Maybe someone else has already registered the name, maybe it means something offensive in Japanese, maybe the domain name is impossible to get, or maybe another awesome startup has an almost identical name. For this reason you should never choose a single idea and fall in love with it. Start with a list of ideas and progress them in parallel so you always have an alternative to switch to when there is a problem.  You will probably have to create unique new words, since practically every normal word has already been used -- even rude words, as I explained in this post from 2010 about the practice of registering offensive names.  In the old days it was enough to avoid a conflict with competitors in your area, but since search engines are global even a rival on the other side of the world is a problem.

2. CHECK EACH NAME ON YOUR LIST.  Now you have a list of candidates to screen for suitability. The simplest and most important test is to check each with major search engines. If a search returns thousands of pages then your name is probably not going to be a good idea, unless all of the other uses of the word are very low profile. For example, the Twitter scheduling tool "Buffer" is hard to find while the networking site "Zerply" and the internet telephony site "Voxio" are very easy to find. What you dream of getting is a zero return from Google, but it's also important to look at what the returns are if there are a few. Watch especially for something small that could be big one day -- a rising star or startup, for example. Try also a Google instant search to see what comes up as you type in the letters; what you don't want is for a competitor's name to come up half way through typing yours. Testing brands you will quickly find that it is best to stick with strings of alphabetic characters as names with spaces or non alphabetic characters are not always interpreted correctly, so a product named "Fun++" would be confused with "fun". Ironically Google had the same problem with Google+ initially.

3. CHECK WITH TRADEMARK REGISTRIES. A Google search identifies obvious conflicts in a very practical way -- if you can't find it your customers can't find it -- but sooner or later you will need to check with the trademark registries. When you want to register marks you will probably be safer with professional help, but you can at least check candidates using the trademark search page of the US Patent and Trademark Office. There is a similar service in Europe at the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market.  A zero return from these searches is a good sign, but beware because a competitor can object to your brand even if it is just similar -- that's another reason to always have backup names. When you find your candidate already registered this is not necessarily a problem. Maybe the competitor is not in your field or maybe there is no conflict and an agreement can be reached. This is when you need help. Sometimes you can make a deal with the company owning the registration and this is, in fact, something that often happens -- remember Apple Computer's famous deal with Apple Records?

4. CHECK DOMAIN AVAILABILITY. You could in theory launch a brand even if you can't get the appropriate domain, but it does not look very serious. This means that if I want to register the brand Qaz I would check for the availability of You can do this by just typing the name into your browser to see what happens, or check with the "Who Is" domain registry at Network Solutions. If you are lucky the domain is free, and in this case you should register it before you mention the candidate name to anyone. Sometimes it has been registered by someone and not used; in this case you can try to buy it. In some cases it is in use but still for sale, so it could be worth asking. It is better to solve problems like this when you are still small; if you wait until your business is already successful it will be more expensive.  These days short URLs like and are very popular, but you still need to .com domain as a backup because many people will type that.

5. REGISTER YOUR BRAND ON SOCIAL, SHARING SITES. Finally, you need to make sure that you register accounts on all of the popular and potentially popular websites using your chosen name(s). At the very least you need to be on major sites like Twitter, Facebook, GooglePlus and YouTube. Registration is free and fast, so this is easy. The problem is that you cannot predict easily which will be the next Twitter, so it is good policy to register your brand on as many new sites as you can, just to make sure nobody gets there first. This is actually quite hard to do if you don't work in communication, so you might find it useful to get help from, which monitors more than 500 sites and, for a fee, can even do the registration for you. Alternatively you could also some expert to do this. Since communications people routinely register their own name on every site it is easy for them to open a few other accounts at the same time. Having your brand name or personal name as your account ID is important firstly because it looks good (Netflix was ridiculed for failing to get the Qwikster Twitter ID), but in addition it helps boost your ranking in search results and blocks hostile groups that might use it against you, as I explained in Sign Up Now: Joining New Networking Sites Boosts Brand Reputation.  In addition to all the social networking sites I also recommend you register on photo and video sharing sites because this is also good for your online reputation, as explained in Why Having and Account on Photo Sharing Sites is Good for Your Image.

In addition to these essential steps, when you are working on your own personal branding you will also need to decide between using your own name, a variant of your own name or a professional name. In the entertainment world this is easy since you can pick any name you want, so Archibald Leach became Cary Grant. In business this is less common, possibly because changing your name looks suspicious, so people choose instead a name for their business and promote that. Personally I believe that a real name brand is much simpler because when I was buying consultant services I could never remember which consultant was associated with each brand, but if you have the same name as someone famous you may have little choice.

Finally, if you dream of a global business you had better also check your candidate names to make sure that they will work in other languages. Many brand ideas are rejected because they mean something offensive in another language, as I explained in the note about offensive trademarks. In some cases names are changed after launch, as when the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China started as CACC but became COMAC after it was ridiculed in many articles like this one.  As far as I know there is no effective automated way to do this search since it depends on subjective evaluation of the similarity of sounds, but maybe this will come. (There is a business idea for some startup, perhaps). At present the best way is to ask a sample of people from around the world to give an opinion on each candidate.


Lectures, Workshops & Coaching

For one-to-one coaching, lectures and workshops on this topic see or contact me at or by phone on 0033 6 79 61 42 81.

Related posts on Branding and Reputation Management:

Choosing Pronounceable Brand Names: Lessons from the Cuil Saga
Five Simple Steps to Improve Your Online Reputation
Branding in the Age of Search Engines
Why Having Accounts on Photo Sharing Sites Is Good for Your Image
Sign Up Now: Joining New Networking Sites Boosts Brand, Reputation


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How to Use Twitter for Professional Networking -- Five Tested Techniques

When I talk about professional networking most people are thinking of traditional business networking sites like LinkedIn, but Twitter can also be surprisingly effective to find and engage with people in your business. Twitter also has the advantage of speed: relationship building that can take months on LinkedIn happens much faster on Twitter simply because of the speed of the medium.  Maybe you tried Twitter already and were disappointed, perhaps seeing just automated advertising bots and people who tweet daily trivia. But there are some very interesting people tweeting some very interesting things; the trick is just to find them. Here, then, are five tried and tested techniques for developing your professional networking on Twitter.

1. FIND RELEVANT PEOPLE BY SEARCHING. Start by twitter searching for keywords related to your business. This will return all the recent tweets on the topic. Scan these tweets and when you see an interesting tweet look at the user's profile and if their other tweets are interesting follow them. Look also at the People Results on the right, too, because sometimes you find interesting tweeters there. Repeat this step at different times and on different days because nobody tweets 24/7.

2. FOLLOW THE NEWS UPSTREAM. Often you will see that the good information from the people you follow is actually retweeted from someone else. Follow these retweets back to the original source because the source that was retweeted was probably even more interesting; they are closer to the original news and interesting enough to be retweeted. Sometimes the retweeter in the middle is an aggregator who adds value by bringing together multiple sources so stay following them, too; tomorrow they may find another good source you don't know.

3.  SEE WHO THE FOLLOWS FOLLOW.  Once you have found a good source of information who is regularly retweeted look at their list of follows to see who they are following. Generally good sources on Twitter follow other good sources, so this is a great way to broaden your list of good follows very easily. Some experts also maintain Twitter lists which can be a great resource for finding information. You can follow an entire list so you get all the information without having to follow individually all the users, but it is better to actually follow the best so they can see you are interested.

4.  FIND TWITTER ACCOUNTS FOR PEOPLE YOU KNOW OF.  If there are specific people in your business you would like to follow then find their Twitter account. If they are celebrities or their name is unusual it may be enough to do a Twitter search. In other cases try looking at their profiles on other sites -- LinkedIn, Quora, Zerply etc -- where they may have listed all of their accounts, including Twitter. Consider also tweeting a question about someones' twittername.

5.  FOLLOW, UNDERSTAND, ENGAGE.  Once you have found some good follows first of all just follow them, listening to what they say. This is useful to understand what topics interest them and how they like to engage with others. After listening for a while you can try to engage people. A good way to start is to wait until someone asks a question where you know the answer. Otherwise make contributions to the conversation that add value.  If you'd like to know more about how the basics of networking check out also Three Keys to Networking.

Just one warning about choosing good sources: when you look at the profile page of a possibly interesting source look to see if there are signs of conversations with other users. If there are none then it is maybe just an automatic tweetbot that just spits out advertising 24/7. Following these bots is a waste of time and most of the time they are just followed by other bots.

Through Twitter you can find in 30 minutes people that would take hours to find just by Googling. And because of the informality of the medium you can also engage with people you might not feel confident to approach through other channels. Twitter is maybe best known for trivia, but in reality it is a very powerful tool for networking. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

The New Facebook Effect, the Rosetta Stone and Why it is Important for Communicators

Once again Facebook has changed the layout of the home page and once again most people are enraged. There are always a minority who are attracted by change but the majority react like the participants in this Digital Trends Survey who gave the latest redesign a clear thumbs down. Yet the people who don't like the new version now prefer the previous version, but just a few months ago the same people were telling pollsters how much they hated it. This phenomenon is well known and is the topic of many cartoons, like this one from Mashable and the classic 2010 State of the Web comic from The Oatmeal.

Why do people hate the changes on the first impression and then grow to like, or at least to accept, them later?  And why is this so important to communication professionals, or indeed anyone who wants to communicate effectively?

The "New Facebook Effect" is simply a stronger manifestation of a well-known aspect of human behavior -- that the majority of people do not like something the first time they see it. This applies not only to Facebook layouts but also new logos, website redesigns, new products and even new ideas. People need to get used to something new before they can become comfortable with it and understanding this fact is vital in communications.

Suppose, for example, that you are an entrepreneur pitching a new idea to an investor or an employee trying to convince the management to adopt your idea.  The worst way to do this is to present your idea as a surprise and then expect a decision. In this case your likelihood of getting a positive answer is seriously reduced because your idea is still in the unfamiliar zone, and still suspect. But give the person some time to digest it and probably later it will not be so unfamiliar and therefore will not be so suspect.  In practice this means that it is a good idea to evangelize your idea before you make any formal presentation or demand any decision. This will ensure that the unfamiliarity has worn off before the formal pitch. As a side effect it also means that you can gauge the reactions of everyone and prepare responses to criticism -- a topic I covered in a previous post about lessons from Mubarak's last address to the Egyptian people.  Remember: the first time you mention something it's like new Facebook, but after a week or so it's already the old, familiar Facebook we all know and at least put up with.

This technique is critically important when you are pitching a new idea, but it is also the key to long-term advocacy campaigns aiming at a major shift in mindsets. Every so often someone launches a campaign that at the time seems hopeless -- the abolition of slavery, votes for women, ending of child labor and so on -- yet after a time nobody would ever want to go back.  In 2003, for example, the chief of Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiqities, Zahi Hawass, asked the British Museum to return the Rosetta Stone to Egypt. When he first made this demand very few people in the UK thought it was a reasonable request because they are starting from a very different mindset and because this was such a new idea.  But given time more and more people will come to accept this as a possibility, leading eventually perhaps to some sort of agreement. People born when the return of antiquities was simply never considered will probably not change their mind, but eventually they will be outnumbered by people who grew up hearing about this possibility and who at least consider both sides of the argument. Maybe this will take a long time, but eventually people will not find the idea so strange and this is thanks to the way Hawass and others are helping people to become familiar with the idea.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

This post is based on ideas from the lecture/workshop Speaking, Persuading and Influencing: How to Use Communication to Achieve Results.  For information on this and other services visit, email or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why Having an Account on Photo Sharing Sites is Good for Your Image

Many companies and organizations use an account on photo sharing sites like Flickr or Picasa effectively as part of their overall communication strategy.  For example, the Greater Manchester Police in England uses their Flickr account both to post pictures of people they are looking for and  community building images from their historical archives.

But some companies decide that they do not need a photo sharing account and either do not bother to open one or simply register a blank account to prevent adversaries taking their brand name. Both policies are unwise. To do nothing at all leaves your brand unprotected yet to register an account is free and takes just a few minutes, so there is no excuse for not doing it. Even if you have registered an account you need to use it. Here's why.

First of all, if you do not upload any images to photo sharing accounts then if anyone searches for your brand name on that site they will see any photo made by any person mentioning your brand, and the results are sometimes negative. Suppose, for example, you make Bumpex fruit juice and do not have an official page with good photos of your product. In this case if I search for "bumpex" I might find either images of strikers picketing the gates of your factory -- I know one case where this actually happened -- or photos of people who have gotten very drunk on a mixture of gin, vodka and bumpex.  Either way, the easiest way to avoid these negative associations is simply to upload a pile of your standard photos so that they come up first in a search.

If you do not do this you will have problems even outside the photo sharing site itself because image search engines like will also pick up the pictures on photo sharing sites, so someone doing a google search for your organization or its brands can turn up some very negative associations if you are not managing the image search in the same way you manage normal page searches.

Try an image search for your company, your organization, your brand or your product and see what the result looks like. If you are unhappy with what you see remember that one of the simplest techniques to bring up positive images and push down negative ones is simply to register accounts on all the photo sharing sites, upload positive images and then set the privacy to 100% public.  As a side effect you will also make it easier for media to use your images, which can sometimes be an inexpensive way to gain a greater share of mind.


Lectures, Workshops & Coaching

For one-to-one coaching, lectures and workshops on this topic see or contact me at or by phone on 0033 6 79 61 42 81.

Related posts on Branding and Reputation Management:

Choosing Pronounceable Brand Names: Lessons from the Cuil Saga
Five Simple Steps to Improve Your Online Reputation
Branding in the Age of Search Engines
Why Having Accounts on Photo Sharing Sites Is Good for Your Image
Sign Up Now: Joining New Networking Sites Boosts Brand, Reputation

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sign Up Now: Joining New Networking Sites Boosts Brand, Reputation

There's a question and answer thread on Linked In Answers this week where people are discussing the question: Are you on all 340 major social networks?.  Most people focus on the impossibility of following hundreds of social networks and I realized that they are maybe not aware that simply signing up for a new network or service can sometimes be very important for your reputation or brand.

Signing up early means that you get the username you want. How did I get the gmail address "andrewhennigan"? Simple, I was there when gmail started. How did I get the twittername "andrewhennigan"?  Again I was just faster than everyone else. This is useful for consultants like me because it improves my search visibility and makes the results much cleaner. For companies with valuable brands it is even more important. Just this week the new Netflix spinoff "Qwikster" is in the news because the company very carelessly neglected to grab the twitter name @qwikster, which is currently owned by someone who is making the company look ridiculous. Techcrunch covers this story with screengrabs of @qwikster tweets in Qwikster already has a lively twitter account but its not owned by Netflix/

Registering your name and brands on major sites is one of the first steps in what we call brand protection. It makes sure that nobody else can grab the name and makes sure you already own it when you need it. This is certainly much cheaper than trying to get it back later, maybe after an embarrassing public dispute. The trouble is that you never know what is going to be major. Remember Twitter? Not many people knew in 2006 that it was going to get this big, so it is prudent to register your brand on new sites even if you are not yet convinced.

In the LinkedIn thread people are discussing 340 social networks. In fact there are more than this, more than 500 today. Just to register a blank profile on all of these would take a long time so some communications people use services like where you can check the availability of your brand for free and if you pay a  fee they will create a blank account for you or even populate your profile.

Brand protection isn't the only reason why you might want to register for new sites as soon as they emerge. There are also important benefits to your visibility and reputation, but that's another story and we will come back to that another day.


Lectures, Workshops & Coaching

For one-to-one coaching, lectures and workshops on this topic see or contact me at or by phone on 0033 6 79 61 42 81.

Related posts on Branding and Reputation Management:

Choosing Pronounceable Brand Names: Lessons from the Cuil Saga
Five Simple Steps to Improve Your Online Reputation
Branding in the Age of Search Engines
Why Having Accounts on Photo Sharing Sites Is Good for Your Image
Sign Up Now: Joining New Networking Sites Boosts Brand, Reputation

Related Posts on Networking:

How to Separate Work and Private Networking
Involuntary Networking: Why First Street is Fascinating but Scary
LinkedIn Etiquette: How to Approach People You Don't Know
Selling Your Ideas: Influencing Your Way to Success
Professional Networking: Five Sites You Should be Using
How to Use Twitter for Professional Networking
Sign Up Now: Joining New Networking Sites Boosts Your Reputation
Zerply: Three Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Sideways
Three Keys to Networking

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Three Ethical Rules for Social Engagement Bots

Engagement between companies and their customers on social networking sites is mostly done by human community managers, assisted by some limited automation to boost productivity.  As technology advances these bots will take on more ambitious roles. Soon it will be the norm for mainstream companies to use automated engagement bots to handle first responses and simpler operations, with a human ready to step in when the bot asks for help.

But let's fast forward a few years to when these bots are so good that they can handle most interactions without being detected. At this point should a bot identify itself as a bot up front, and how should it respond if someone asks if it is a bot? This is partly an ethical question; partly a question of how customers react.

I have put this question to many people, face-to-face, on Quora and on LinkedIn and the responses are interesting.  Some people will, it appears, be annoyed at first when they realize that they have been "fooled", but the majority say that if the bot gets the job done they don't care if it is human or not.  Others even say that they would be kinder if they knew they were talking to a bot -- which must sadden human customer service people. I am also sure that this is a problem that will go away anyway with future generations. When engagement bots are the norm then people will be excited to learn that they have spoken with a human, and only grumpy old farts will object. Much the same happened with other innovations like the telephone and human nature being what it is this is unlikely to change soon.

Based on these inputs I have formulated a proposal for three rules for ethical social media engagement bots.

1. An engagement bot does not need to say upfront that it is a bot -- after all, people won't care if everything goes well and there could also be a human element in the system, too.

2. But when asked if it is a bot or a human a bot must answer truthfully.

3. And when someone asks for more information about a bot it should give the name of the manufacturer and the model number but not go into more detail.

I would like to add that this sort of automation will work well for customer service interfaces where people just need their problems fixed. Though I am certain that some people will use it to handle their own social networking chores and we will inevitably end up with bots chatting to bots, like the Twitter bots we see today, followed only by other bots.  I don't suppose this does any harm other than wasting electricity, but it does seem amazingly pointless.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

How a Prophetic 1946 Short Story Anticipated Today's Web, But Not The Changed Role of Women

Many science fiction stories have anticipated future developments, but probably the most surprising was Murray Leinster's extraordinary story "A Logic Named Joe". Written long before anyone had seen a computer, or even a TV set, it imagined a future world where every home would be equipped with a computer ("logic" in the story) that is connected to a "tank" (a server) and that all the tanks would be connected together to make a global network. Considering that this comes long before MIT and DARPA started talking about the "Galactic Network" this is already very impressive.

But it is in the services the "logic" provides that Leinster really surprises us, because he talks about things which were still in the realm of science fiction just ten years ago.

"You got a logic in your house", the story begins, "It looks like a vision receiver used to only it's got keys instead of dials... Say you punch 'Station SNAFU' on your logic  whatever vision program SNAFU is telecastin' comes on your logic's screen. Or you punch 'Sally Hancock's Phone' and ... you're hooked up with the logic in her house an if somebody answers you got a vision phone connection. But besides that, if you punch for the weather forecast, or who won today's race at Hialeah or who was the mistress of the White House durin' Garfield's administration or what is PDQ&R sellin' for today, that comes on the screen, too."

So Leinster's "logics service" provides you with a late 2000s range of web services, including video calls, streaming TV, search, weather news and everything else we take for granted today so it would be hard to believe that this was published in May 1946 if it weren't for a telltale line at the end of the opening paragraph.

"The only thing it won't do is tell you exactly what your wife meant when she said "Oh, you think so do you?" in that peculiar kind voice. Logics don't work good on women. Only on things that make sense."

This part doesn't surprise me at all. Science fiction writers have no trouble anticipating technical developments but always seem to assume that the social world will remain forever unchanged. Leinster could extrapolate what little he had heard about future television and computer developments and imagine the world wide web, data mining, Skype calls and much more. But he could not imagine a world where women are mostly treated like human beings.

He was wrong on two other social questions, too. First of all he imagines that the "logics service" would be provided by a single company that operates the network, the servers and all the terminals. In fact one of the key enabling concepts of the Internet and later the World Wide Web is that they are built on standards and are neither owned nor controlled by one corporation.  In addition, the story is told in the first person by a service technician working for the logics company and is entirely written in an irritating register writers use when they want to make you understand a person is uneducated. Again, he could probably never imagine that the support engineer of today probably has a university degree and is maybe even a woman, something else difficult to imagine in 1946 even though we now know that there were women working on secret military computers at the time.

But the story is a fascinating example of how literature often anticipates technology but very rarely social change, and I hope that it inspires writers to do something about it.  If you'd like to find out how the story ends read the full text of A Logic Named Joe. There is also a period radio show recording available from A Logic Named Joe (audio) at The Internet Archive  And if you'd like to discuss the idea you can find me on GooglePlus, Facebook, Twitter always with the name "andrewhennigan".


This note is based on the Lecture "When Literature Meets Technology: How Fiction Anticipates Technical Developments But Ignores Social Change" created and presented by Andrew Hennigan. Email for more information. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Twitter Best Practices: Lessons for Website Owners and Users

This week the free social media monitoring site suddenly disappeared. I first noticed when I tried to demonstrate it to a class I was teaching at the IAE Aix Graduate School of Management near Aix en Provence, but later I noticed that the problem persisted for several days. This is very unusual. Most glitches last a few hours so for a website to disappear for several days is an interesting event.

Like most users I did the obvious thing and tweeted an "is it just me" message. There was no answer so I searched for news and found many users asking what had happened but there were no replies. Both the @socialmention account and the founder Jon Cianciullo's personal @jonnyjon account were silent. In the end I sent Jon Cianciullo's a mail and he answered very quickly that the site was down while they moved hosting company but that it would be back up that day. And it did come back, he replied to all the tweets and now everyone is happy.

But there are some lessons from this little episode that I would like to share with you today:

1. PEOPLE EXPECT TO FIND NEWS ON TWITTER. Whether you are a train operator with trains stuck in an undersea tunnel or a website owner, when there are problems people expect to find at least a tweet acknowledging the problem. Ideally they would like replies to their tweets but when you have a small company people will understand that this is hard and be content with just one tweet saying that there is a known issue. This is also one of the cases -- very few -- where I would even condone the use of autoreply bots.

2. USERS NEED TO LEARN TO USE TWITTER SEARCH. Most people having trouble with a website will start by tweeting a question and wait for a reply. This doesn't always come. I realize now that the best practice would be to first search for the keyword -- in this case "socialmention" -- which will tell you immediately that you are not the only person with the problem, and then tweet that you have the same problem. In many cases the first search will also give you the answer. In fact in this case after I had tweeted the news about the imminent return people were still asking for news.

3. EVERYONE NEEDS TO LEARN ABOUT "WHO IS".  One little detail I haven't mentioned yet is how I was able to mail socialmention founder Jon Cianciullo.  All I did was look up the contact information for the domain on Network Solutions "Who Is" page at  This amazingly useful resource is also invaluable when you need to deal with some content that causes you problems, but that can wait until I write about the secrets of online reputation management.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, coaching and writing on this and other communication topics visit, email or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81