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What are the most common online threats to a brand’s reputation?

by Rockey Simmons

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As consumers increasingly turn to online platforms for information and engagement, it is crucial for businesses to be aware of the common online threats that can pose significant risks to their brand’s reputation.

This is because understanding potential dangers, like negative reviews and data breaches, can help you safeguard your brand’s image and maintain trust among your target audience.

In this article, I’ll explore the most common online threats that brands face and provide actionable strategies to help mitigate their impact.

1. Cyberattacks

According to the CSC’s 2023 Domain Security Report—”despite rising phishing and online fraud—many companies are vastly unaware of the state of their domain name portfolio and overlook foundational domain security measures.”

It’s pretty unbelievable that companies are still ignoring internet safety!

In today’s digital age, cyberattacks pose a significant threat to businesses’ online reputations, as well as their bottom lines.

  • Phishing—One common form of cyberattack is phishing, where malicious actors attempt to deceive individuals into providing sensitive information such as passwords, credit card details, or social security numbers. These attacks often come in the form of deceptive emails or websites that mimic legitimate organizations. By falling victim to phishing schemes, employees unknowingly expose themselves to identity theft and financial fraud, and subsequently, tarnish the reputation of their company’s brand.
  • Malware—Another type of cyberattack is malware, a term used to describe malicious software designed to disrupt or gain unauthorized access to computer systems. Malware can take various forms, such as viruses, worms, or ransomware. Ransomware attacks have gained notoriety as they encrypt a victim’s files and demand a ransom for their release. These attacks not only result in significant financial losses for an organization, but they also negatively impact its reputation by eroding consumer trust in the brand’s ability to safeguard sensitive data.

For a more in-depth look at six ways to best protect your online business reputation, read this checklist.

2. Data leaks and breaches

Data breaches have become increasingly prevalent in recent years, significantly impacting brands’ reputations.

There are several ways for data to be exposed:

  • Hacking—Hacking remains one of the most common methods cybercriminals use to infiltrate a company’s network and gain unauthorized access to sensitive data. These breaches can lead to the exposure of personal information, such as names, addresses, and even financial details of customers and employees. The reputational damage caused by a data breach can be severe, as customers might lose trust in the brand’s ability to protect their information and question the organization’s overall security posture.
  • Insider threats—Individuals within an organization also contribute to data leaks and breaches. For example, some individuals misuse their access privileges for personal gain or intentionally leak sensitive information. Whether driven by financial motives, revenge, or ideological reasons, insider threats can significantly damage a brand’s reputation due to the breach of trust associated with these incidents.
  • Inadequate cloud security—The growing dependence on cloud storage and services has also exposed businesses to the risk of cloud data breaches. Misconfigurations, weak authentication, or inadequate security measures within cloud infrastructure can all lead to unauthorized access or data exposure.

Put another way …

When customer data falls into the wrong hands due to a cloud data breach, the affected brand faces severe reputational damage as customers and other stakeholders start to question the organization’s security and privacy practices.

3. Negative online reviews and feedback

In an era where online reviews and feedback heavily influence purchasing decisions, negative online content can have a destructive impact on a brand’s reputation.

  • Fake reviews—These reviews, often crafted by competitors or disgruntled individuals, aim to damage a brand’s reputation by spreading false information about its products or services. For example, they can mislead potential customers, leading to a decline in sales and a negative perception of the brand.
  • Genuine negative feedback—Although not malicious in nature, authentic negative reviews can also pose a threat to a brand’s reputation. Dissatisfied customers who voice their concerns online highlight areas where the brand may be falling short, potentially dissuading others from engaging with the company. Brands must address these negative comments promptly and efficiently, demonstrating a commitment to resolving issues and improving customer satisfaction to mitigate the negative impact on their reputation.
  • Viral negative social media posts—These posts represent another significant threat to a brand’s reputation. In today’s interconnected world, a single negative post can quickly reach millions of users, leading to widespread backlash against a brand. As such, organizations need to be proactive in monitoring social media platforms to identify and address negative posts swiftly. By acknowledging consumers’ concerns and taking appropriate actions, brands can demonstrate their commitment to customer satisfaction and minimize any reputational damage.

4. Social media impersonation

From April 2022 to April 2023, there were 410,000 new social media users every day, according to DataReportal’s Digital 2023 April Global Statshot Report.

With the prominence of social media in our daily lives, social media impersonation has become a common tactic used to deceive consumers and damage a brand’s reputation.

Are online reputation issues hurting your business? Find out with our free Reputation Report Card. Start Your Scan

Some examples include:

  • Fake brand accounts—Created by malicious actors, fake brand accounts aim to mislead customers by posing as legitimate companies. These accounts may post fraudulent offers, scam users, or spread misinformation, all while tarnishing the brand’s image.
  • Spoofed profiles—These profiles involve individuals impersonating key personnel within an organization. By falsely presenting themselves as executives, employees, or other brand representatives, these spoofed profiles can manipulate customers or internal workflows. This type of impersonation can damage a brand’s reputation by misrepresenting its values or intentions, leading to confusion and distrust among stakeholders.
  • Account hijacking—This scheme is yet another way in which cybercriminals undermine a brand’s reputation on social media platforms. By gaining unauthorized access to a brand’s social media accounts, malicious actors can post misleading or offensive content, creating significant damage to the brand’s image. Account hijacking incidents can result in the loss of followers, negative publicity, and eroded trust, thus impacting the brand’s reputation.

5. Brandjacking

Brandjacking refers to the unauthorized use of a brand’s identity for illegitimate purposes.

Here are some examples:

  • Domain name infringement—One common form of brandjacking is domain name infringement, where cybercriminals register domains that closely resemble a legitimate brand’s web address. These fraudulent domains can be used to host malicious content, phishing websites, or counterfeit products. This tactic not only confuses consumers, but it also damages the brand’s reputation, as unsuspecting individuals may associate the fraudulent activities with the actions of the legitimate brand.
  • Trademark abuse—This activity involves the unauthorized and illegitimate use of a brand’s trademark or logo by another party. Infringing on a brand’s trademark can mislead consumers, leading to counterfeit products, unauthorized endorsements, or misleading advertising campaigns. Through trademark abuse, the reputation and integrity of a brand are compromised, potentially resulting in financial losses and erosion of customer trust.
  • Counterfeit products—These products also pose a significant threat to a brand’s reputation. Counterfeiters produce imitation goods that resemble a brand’s products, often with lower quality or harmful ingredients. The availability of counterfeit products tarnishes a brand’s reputation, as consumers may associate poor quality or negative experiences with the authentic brand, leading to a loss of trust and diminished sales.

6. Cyber defamation and smear campaigns

Cyber defamation and smear campaigns involve the dissemination of false or damaging information about a brand or individual.

Some examples are:

  • False allegations—Whether spread through social media, websites, or online forums, false allegations can cause irreparable harm to a brand’s reputation. These allegations can range from fabricated product defects to unethical business practices, which, if believed by the public, can result in significant reputational damage.
  • Reputation sabotage—This activity encompasses deliberate actions taken by individuals or competitors to tarnish a brand’s image online. This may involve the creation of negative content, posting inflammatory remarks, or manipulating search engine results to highlight negative information about the brand. Reputation sabotage aims to damage the brand’s reputation and create a negative perception among customers, leading to potential loss of business and trust.
  • Cyberbullying—Cyberbullying, which is often associated with individuals, can also extend to brands. Online harassment, threats, or malicious comments directed at a brand’s social media accounts or website can create a hostile environment. The negative impact of cyberbullying can range from reputational damage to emotional harm suffered by employees and customers. Brands need to not only actively address instances of cyberbullying but also promote positive and respectful interactions online to maintain their reputation.

7. Phishing scams

Phishing scams continue to be a prevalent online threat, targeting both individuals and businesses.

There are several different types of phishing, including:

  • Email phishing—This activity involves sending deceptive emails that mimic legitimate organizations, enticing recipients into sharing sensitive information or downloading malicious attachments. By impersonating reputable entities, cybercriminals can trick individuals into unknowingly divulging personal or financial information, jeopardizing their security, and potentially leading to reputational damage for the associated brand.
Are online reputation issues hurting your business? Find out with our free Reputation Report Card. Start Your Scan
  • Spear phishing—Spear phishing takes regular phishing attacks a step further by personalizing the messages to specifically target certain individuals or organizations. By using information gathered from various sources, such as social media or publicly available data, cybercriminals can increase the chances of success in their phishing attempts. A successful spear phishing attack can result in the compromise of confidential business information, financial loss, and eroded trust in the organization’s ability to protect sensitive data.
  • Whaling—This form of phishing (which specifically targets high-ranking individuals within organizations) poses a significant threat to a brand’s reputation. By impersonating CEOs, executives, or other influential individuals, cybercriminals attempt to manipulate employees into divulging sensitive information or initiating unauthorized financial transactions. The consequences of a successful whaling attack can be severe, tarnishing the brand’s reputation while also resulting in financial loss or legal ramifications.

8. Online brand impersonation

Online brand impersonation involves the creation of fake websites, phony social media profiles, or copycat marketing campaigns that mimic a brand’s identity.

  • Fake websites—These sites are designed to look virtually identical to legitimate ones, aiming to deceive customers into sharing personal information or making unauthorized purchases. By impersonating the brand, cybercriminals can damage the brand’s reputation by associating it with fraudulent activities and potentially causing financial loss for unsuspecting customers.
  • Phony social media profiles—These profiles imitate a brand’s official accounts to deceive customers and followers into engaging with fraudulent entities. For example, they may post misleading or offensive content, exploit user information, or spread false information, leading to reputation damage for the impacted brand. Customers and followers who encounter these phony profiles may lose trust in the brand and question the authenticity of its communications, compromising the brand’s reputation and credibility.
  • Copycat marketing campaigns—These campaigns attempt to piggyback on the success and reputation of established brands. By imitating a brand’s marketing strategies, slogans, or advertisements, these campaigns aim to deceive consumers into associating the copycat brand with the original one. This type of impersonation can erode a brand’s reputation by diluting its unique features and confusing consumers, ultimately leading to a loss of trust and potential revenue.

9. SEO manipulation and domain hijacking

Search engine optimization (SEO) manipulation and brand hijacking involve tactics aimed at misleading search engines and diverting traffic away from the legitimate brand’s website.

Here are some examples:

  • Negative SEO—This refers to the practice of using unethical techniques, such as creating spammy backlinks or engaging in keyword stuffing, to lower a brand’s search engine rankings. These tactics can harm a brand’s reputation by associating it with low-quality content or questionable practices, ultimately reducing its visibility and credibility online.
  • Domain hijacking—Domain hijacking occurs when cybercriminals gain unauthorized access to a brand’s domain registration account and redirect its traffic to a different website. This can result in a loss of customer trust, as unsuspecting visitors may be exposed to malicious content, fraudulent offers, or counterfeit products. Domain hijacking undermines a brand’s reputation by associating it with nefarious activities and compromising the security of customer interactions.
  • Keyword stuffing—This activity involves the excessive and irrelevant use of keywords within website content, aiming to manipulate search engine rankings. By flooding their content with keywords, malicious actors aim to deceive search engines and divert traffic to their websites. This unethical practice can have severe consequences for a brand’s reputation, as it diminishes the quality and trustworthiness of the associated website, potentially leading to decreased customer engagement and negative perceptions.

10. Cyber extortion

Cyber extortion encompasses various tactics used by malicious actors to extract money or other assets through threats and coercion.

For example:

  • Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks—This involves overwhelming a target’s web servers or infrastructure with a flood of traffic, effectively rendering the services inaccessible to legitimate users. Cybercriminals may then demand a ransom in exchange for stopping the attack. A successful DDoS attack not only disrupts business operations but also damages the brand’s reputation by exposing vulnerabilities in its infrastructure and potentially leading to customer dissatisfaction.
Are online reputation issues hurting your business? Find out with our free Reputation Report Card. Start Your Scan
  • Blackmail threats—Blackmail threats are another form of cyber extortion that can severely impact a brand’s reputation. For example, cybercriminals may threaten to release sensitive or embarrassing information about a brand unless a ransom is paid. Even the mere existence of such threats can negatively impact a brand’s reputation, as customers may lose trust in an organization that appears susceptible to extortion or compromise.
  • Cryptojacking—The unauthorized use of a brand’s computing resources to mine cryptocurrencies is a growing cyber extortion tactic. By infecting a brand’s systems with malware, cybercriminals can exploit the processing power of the organization’s network to mine cryptocurrencies without its knowledge. This not only impacts the brand’s operational efficiency, but it also raises concerns about security and the brand’s ability to protect its infrastructure, potentially tarnishing its reputation.

Final thoughts

The world of online business can be a scary place when you look at all the things that can go wrong. But with the technology and the right plan, you can maintain a strong online reputation for yourself and your business.

Understanding the various online threats, from cyberattacks to brand impersonation, provides organizations with awareness and the opportunity to implement robust cybersecurity measures and reputation management strategies.

For a deeper look at your business’s online reputation, grab your free reputation report card. This resource will instantly tell you how others view your brand online and what its online reputation grade is. From here, it’s a lot easier for you to move forward and make the right decision about improving your brand’s online reputation.

This post was contributed by Rockey Simmons, founder of SaaS Marketing Growth.