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BoA Shows How Not to Defend a Reputation Against a WikiLeak

WikiLeak has been promising to release information that will be very damaging to a large financial institution. The site has been coy about the name, but it is widely believed that Bank of America is the institution in question. The bank has said it doesn’t know what the leak could be – but apparently it is readying for some kind of bombshell by registering domain names that could possibly be used to criticize or make fun of it.

In recent days it has taken "hundreds" of domain names consisting of the names of its Board of Directors and senior executives, followed by "sucks" and "blows", Domain Name Wire reports.

For instance, it has registered a number of domains for its CEO Brian Moynihan including BrianMoynihanBlows.com, BrianMoynihanSucks.com, BrianTMoynihanBlows.com, and BrianTMoynihanSucks.com. It has also claimed .net and .org versions of some of these as well. Also claimed are names for CFO Charles Noski, Chairman of the Board Charles Holliday, and board member Charles Rossotti, who is also a senior advisor of The Carlyle Group.

The BP Oil Spill Model

Bank of America may be trying to avoid pitfalls made by BP after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year. As the magnitude of the spill became clear, robust social media efforts organized a boycott of the company - and seized control of its name on Twitter to poke fun at the company.

Namely, the Twitter handle BPGlobalPR was used to great effect during the worst of the spill, with the tweeter poking fun at BP’s efforts by the hour. BP would have had the law on its side if it had presented the tweeter with a cease-and-desist order - even though BP never claimed the name - but it was suspected that fear of an even greater backlash kept BP from taking that route.

Also adding to Bank of America’s likely sense of urgency are recent studies that show how fruitless it can be to try to combat a social media-inspired campaign once it has started.

Before the age of blogs, Twitter and Facebook, the biggest backlash against companies during a PR crisis occurred at the beginning of the incident, followed by a long tail of diminishing interest from the press and public, a report by Social Media Influence found. Now, though, a brewing protest movement can spring out from nowhere, gathering followers until it attracts the attention of mainstream media. "This added attention is just enough to push the movement into a new more visible light…capturing the attention of a whole new group of people, which brings it to the attention now of the mainstream media."

From there, the movement experiences a third life and a fourth. "It's the tail that contains the sting now," Social Media Influence concluded, and the "half-life of these PR crises extends for weeks, months, even years more and has the capability to reignite yet again."

A separate study by Starch Advertising Research found that Toyota's advertising efforts to rehabilitate its image with U.S. consumers after the scandals surrounding its recalls early in the year may not have had the impact it would have liked. The firm tracked the impact of Toyota's vehicle recalls on consumers' attitudes toward the Toyota brand before, during and after the recalls - and found a big drop in consideration. (via Media Post).

People positively disposed toward the brand dropped by 24% - from 83% pre-recall to 59% post-recall.  People negatively disposed to Toyota more than doubled, from 17% pre-recall to 41% post-recall, despite the automaker's efforts to save its brand online.

BrianMoynihanIsPrettyLame.com

While such data no doubt inspires companies to stay one step ahead of social media-fueled campaigns, ham-handed attempts like Bank of America’s are just as likely to backfire by creating even more visibility.

Consider Gawker’s post on the subject, pointing out domain names Bank of America failed to register: BrianMoynihanIsPrettyLame.com BrianMoynihanTotallySucks.org OneThingThatSucksIsBrianMoynihan.ca UghBrianMoynihanUghUghUgh.gov BrianMoynihanIsJustTheWorstInMyOpinion.ly BrianMoynihanSmellsKindOfLikeHam.edu BrianMoynihanKeepsLeavingTheToiletSeatUp.it IsItTrueThatBrianMoynihansFavoriteTVShowIsAmericanDad.fr BrianMoynihanDoesntEverBrushHisTeeth.co.uk GodWhyWon'tBrianMoynihanShutUpAboutHisStupidTripToTurkey.com IHeardThatBrianMoynihanWroteAPoemToJennaInAccountingIsntThatSuperWeird.mil ISawBrianMoynihanBuyingANicklebackCD.net

Dave Carroll Takes on United

Also, consumers have proven very adept at poking fun at companies online without the benefit of a ABCcompanysucks.com domain. There was the previously unknown Dave Carroll's Canadian country music band Sons of Maxwell - unknown that is, until United Airlines’ baggage handlers damaged a $3,500 guitar that the band had checked onto a flight. "United gave Carroll the runaround when he tried to get compensation. The episode inspired a song and music video that includes the lyrics, "I should have flown with someone else, or gone by car, because United breaks guitars." It drew more than 16.9 million Google search references and 5 million views of the video on You Tube - as well as United’s fervent apologies. (via Bull Dog Reporter).

In short, Bank of America should have claimed these domain names long before there was a whiff of scandal on the horizon. Social media is so real-time now that even a defensive move on the eve of an incident or bad news is blogworthy.

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