Yahoo Chatrooms, Advertisers Go Offline

Yahoo! recently publicized it was closing their chat rooms. They had determined adults were using them to luring children into meeting through those private chat rooms. This news impacted advertisers, and it could provide insight into how companies can manage their online presence.

While this misuse of the internet is a story in and of itself, it is one which I will only briefly cover here. Yahoo has claimed that they do not monitor their chatrooms, but speaking as an experienced Yahoo chat room user I can say they most certainly do not stand back from the rooms. In fact, they have made it so that common everyday curse words are edited out of chat conversations.

What I do want to bring to light is the real reason the service was closed and the seemingly irresponsible stance that Yahoo has taken, as well as a few other Fortune 500 companies which I will share with you. Then I will share the most important aspect of this announcement, the lack of protection over corporate brands that these companies have allowed to occur.

Yahoo has known of the adult nature of their chat rooms and to say otherwise is a blatant lie. A simple look at the types of names that users created would set off an alarm for most people of common sense. Chat rooms, like “Girls 13 and under for older guys,” “Girls 13 and up for much older men,” “Older men for younger women,” “married but looking,” ”gay oldermen for young boys,” “moms for sons,” etc. The list of sexual persuasions is longer than I can cover here, but suffice it to say that bestiality and rape were also covered. In fact, nothing seemed to outré.

I also should make it clear that the themes of the chat rooms are not limited to Yahoo, but are (or were) on MSN, AOL, and IRC (Internet Relay Chat). Now let me ask a question: why do we so willingly hold parents responsible for their children’s actions (by fining them for truancy, violence, and having unlocked guns in the home), and yet we allow companies like Yahoo and Google to neither answer fully the charges put before them or allow them to claim ignorance?

 

Before making Yahoo out to be Satan in this article, I’ll move onto where the other Fortune 500 companies “claim” ignorance (of course, I think that is just another bold-face lie). Yahoo’s user chat rooms were shut down after a Houston Texas television station, KPRC, reported that adults were luring kids for sex through this service. While Yahoo took their stance, most of the Fortune 500 companies with ads on Yahoo and these chat rooms immediately pulled their advertisements. Then I’m sure they initiated a damage control campaign.

Some of the advertisers were Pepsi Cola, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance, and Georgia-Pacific. These companies claim that they did not know their ads were running on the pages where the Yahoo user chat roomsreside. Dave DeCecco, a spokesman for Pepsi Co, said in a statement, “We were completely unaware that our ads were associated with these chat rooms inany way…As soon as we were aware, we worked with Yahoo to immediately remove them.”

Of course you did. However that alone means little when your company has allowed itself to be placed on these pages in the first place. This is pure media spin.

Companies cannot be so far out of touch that they do not know where they are advertising. As we all know in this day and age, a quick check of the referer file in their web hosting stats shows the precise URL where any visitor traffic came from, including the link from another site.

Further, I am sure Pepsi, and the other advertisers that backed out, as well as Yahoo, have a plethora of computer science graduates from leading universities working in the IT departments. They too would know from where traffic is coming, and in Yahoos case, the chat room pages (including the offending names) were a traceable part of their database. In the rush for the almighty dollar, corporate responsibility is being left behind and swept under the rug. The “we didn’t know” excuse is tired and passe. I expect that response from my 11 year old, not from mature adults in the corporate world with a mass of technological tools at their disposal.

That these size companies could only find that excuse also shows there are problems in headquarters with controlling their brand name. Now I am no Pepsi, Georgia Pacific, or Yahoo, but I do market for some of the top name consumer products in the country. I deal with everything from home alarm systems, mortgage lenders, satellite television companies, and apparel brands. Whenever I am offered the opportunity, I need to tell these companies or their publishers where their ads will be placed by providing a URL where it is to be displayed.

I also work with many small and medium businesses worldwide, and these companies take great steps to maintain their site quality. My international clients are a bit more protective than their US counterparts, but most all of them could never honestly say they didn’t know. In my eyes, this quality usually makes the client a much better one to do business with as well.

Large corporations are exposed to bad press and harm to reputation on many technological fronts: a disenfranchised employee writing a blog post, the blogging community itself, user forums, and message boards. That can put a severe crunch in the image and revenue a company can generate. There was a lock company that enjoyed great success online and had built a huge user community through their website. The users evetually found out that the company’s guaranteed-unbreakable lock could be broken by one blow from a hammer, and the backlash put them out of business. It took no time at all, especially considering how long it took to build the business and grow the user base.

Bloated corporations have the resources to protect their brand name but do a very poor job of it in the online realm. It may be their slow acceptance of the web as a viable and valuable tool, or their greed which allows them to buy $100 thousand dollar suites in sports arenas like it is a drop in the bucket. That greed may keep them from paying the salaries for a few newly created job positions, like a ”Corporate Brand Emissary.”

Moving into the future, those Fortune 500 companies who employ people to protect their brand name and reputation (or hire firms designed to protect these companies on line like “Virtual bodyguards”) will do more to add return on investment to the bottom line. Their work will be much more potent than placing advertising on a bunch of random chat rooms filled with people pretending to be other people.

Corporate Brand Emissaries (CBE’s) will need to develop skills in search engine optimization to move pages with bad press off of the search engine results, especially if the page lands within the top 30 results of any major keywords. THE CBE will need to develop public relations skills in order to diminish any damage done by bad press or publicity, create good publicity or spin to offset damage done. This will need to be a proactive position where people are sent to the advertisers’ sites to ensure compliance with their brand, trademark, and copyright policies.

The CBE will also need search engine marketing skills to find better advertising opportunities for their clients while proactively surfing the Internet to maintain damage control and positive interaction with the company’s various interpersonal contacts they have daily in the course of business,

These newly created positions can also assist in filing DMCA paperwork with search engines to have results removed which infringe on the company’s brand name or copyright or otherwise violate protections to corporations assured by the government. The government can, and does enact laws to protect the many types of properties people and companies own. But in the Internet world, the reality is that there must be a proactive stance taken in order to ensure steady revenue.

Google.com and the other major search engines can make the CBE’s job easy through the indexing of web pages that contain the company’s name. A search on Google for http://www.mywebsite.com will return a page with the site description, as seen in Google’s results page. Below that are five links to other information about the website.

By clicking on the bottom listed link (find web pages that contain the term “www.mywebsite.com”), a list of all the websites where the domain name is mentioned will be returned, which the CBE will need to click on each one and surf the site where the company’s name is mentioned.

From there the CBE can notate whether the site provides good publicity or bad press. Bad press comments should be noted and an individualized e-mail sent to discuss the issue. If violations of business protections (Copyright Law for instance) have been done, the letter can request that the violation be removed.

In the current environment of consumerism, where an unsatisfied customer can take their complaint to the world about any company, it is an advised best practice for corporations to exceed customer expectations by providing superior response to complaints and implementing a problem resolution process.

With the resources offered through the online world, as well as a plethora of tools at their disposal, the claim of “we didn’t know” for any Fortune500 corporation, especially those publicly held, is a sure sign of a poor and lazy management that is too far out of touch, unaware of current events, and putting on blinders to issues which can erode shareholder confidence and the value of the shares.

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