Establishing an online presence is essential for all businesses to grow their brand and share their mission. Customers also expect legitimate companies to have websites and social media channels. However, business executives may not realize the full scope of their digital footprint or what their client base may read about them online.

What Comprises a Digital Footprint?

Digital footprints are the data trails created while using the internet. Most individuals have a passive and active digital footprint. Passive footprints aren’t intentional. Some examples include cookies installed by websites, apps that track geolocation, and social media channels that aggregate likes, comments, and other interactions to provide ads or product recommendations. Active footprints comprise the data willingly shared, such as social media posts, blog posts, and emails.

For organizations, digital footprints include all the information people can find about them online. Some of this data can be misleading, incorrect, or outright damaging to the company’s reputation. Businesses must understand their digital footprints to ensure they have a strong cyber standing and avoid liability pitfalls.

  • Online searches. Looking up a company online has supplanted pre-internet directories like the yellow pages. Instead of paying to appear most often or near the top of the iconic archive, businesses now invest in online ads that appear in search engines, social media feeds, and more. However, customers use these search results for more than finding a vendor. They use it as a vetting tool, and any information they find is fair game. Disinformation, bad reviews, and unflattering content can tarnish a customer’s view of an organization before ever engaging with them.
  • Social media. Businesses need social media accounts for legitimacy. They are a platform for spreading their brand and sharing information with followers. It’s also a way to connect and engage with customers—some of whom may use social media to start a relationship with the company. Social media footprints also include anything a business or its employees comment on, like, or share. Organizations can rapidly find themselves in hot water if they engage with unsavory content or if one of their employees makes an offensive comment.
  • Email. Internal emails are often private short of a leak, data breach, or subpoena. In those instances, the organization likely has bigger problems it can’t solve by culling its digital footprint. However, how a company manages its customers’ email addresses is significant. Customers often supply their email to subscribe to newsletters, make accounts, or gain access to information. They become angry if they believe the company is abusing their private information, such as selling their email or spamming their inbox with emails they don’t want.
  • Reviews. Companies can exert some control over reviews posted to their website. However, customers rarely believe these reviews, as they’re aware organizations can delete or refuse to post unflattering comments (even if they’re accurate). As a result, they turn to search engines to find unscreened ratings. All businesses can expect to receive negative reviews at some point. How a business responds is critical. It’s easy to become emotional or fire back about how the customer didn’t indicate they had a problem during the interaction, created the problem via their own behavior, or some other defensive riposte. All these approaches have a double-whammy effect. Potential customers read the negative review and then see what they often interpret as a petulant or rude reaction from the company. If an organization feels it must respond to a bad review, the best approach is to focus on how it can resolve the problem or make it right for the customer.

Companies cannot afford to overlook their digital footprint. If they don’t cultivate their online presence, customers will do it for them—and it’s rarely flattering. Cybercriminals can also hijack a brand and destroy its reputation by creating websites and social media accounts with common misspellings of the company’s URL and social handles. Ignoring or overlooking the importance of a digital footprint leaves a glaring hole in a company’s cybersecurity. Contact Windermere Insurance Group to assess your organization’s cyber risks and implement strategies to mitigate them.