Coming soon: A new web domain that will allow people to create a website like ‘JustinBieber.sucks’ for just $250. What does this mean for businesses who may have an over-the-top angry customer?
What’s In A Name
While it seems like a humorous joke at the expense of your favorite love-to-hate-them celebrities and politicians, the new domain ‘.sucks’ could create serious problems for businesses. Businesses use their name as their brand and even the smallest businesses invest money to ensure their name is becoming known and associated only with positive feelings. One angry customer with a little too much money and time on their hands could swiftly ruin that.
How Domains Work
Slated to become available on June 21, the new domain ‘.sucks’ is one of several new domains that will become available, joining .com, .net and .org. Domains have long been used in part to display the type of business, which is why colleges use .edu and government sites use .gov. Many companies spend extra money to protect their name from potential theft or misuse by buying extra domains with their name and even variations on the name. An added benefit to purchasing the extra domains is they can then all be routed to the main website. For example, Google.net takes you straight to Google.com. This way if people cannot remember what domain a site is on they will still get to the site a company wants them to. It’s a great way to ensure branding control.
No One Wants Their Name to Suck
New domains like ‘.sucks’ create a situation where companies can be targeted by consumer groups, an angry customer or just your garden variety internet ‘troll.’ Internet trolls are people who spend their time creating chaos and harassment campaigns against companies or individuals they dislike. This could result in a slew of ‘hater’ sites – sites designed for no reason but to mock and malign companies, celebrities and more. For big companies like Comcast, Pepsi or an airline this may seem pretty minor. But for small and family-owned companies for whom one negative Yelp review can make a difference, having people find a website that explicitly says they suck can be disastrous. Allegations can be falsified and blown out of proportion by a troll or one customer and people may assume a complete website dedicated to the allegations somehow makes them true statements coming from multiple sources.
ICANN, the company behind the new domain ‘.sucks,’ has heard complaints from companies and offered a deal to businesses that would like to preempt potential slander and misrepresentation of their brand: pay $2,500 to secure the domain. For big companies like Comcast or Bank of America, that seems like a paltry amount and worth it to avoid later hassle, but for small companies that is a significant amount of money they may not be able to justify spending, especially with little time to make a decision before the domain rolls out. Several companies have said this amounts to extortion and makes ICANN little better than the people who would likely use the domain to spread a negative image of their company.
What Small Businesses Can
Experts suggest reviewing your communications plan and strategy to ensure your company is interacting with customers in an authentic and as direct way as much as possible. Harnessing the power of best practices use of social media like Twitter and Facebook where you can build a reputation for appropriate and swift responses to customer complaints and concerns can make a difference to how current and prospective customers see you. Making excellent customer service and responsiveness a priority can mitigate potential troll behavior. If you have a reputation for handling things well, people will be less likely to take serious any allegations that claim otherwise.
The Big Picture
ICANN will also be launching new domains for ‘.info’, ‘.adult’ and ‘.xxx’ on June 21. They have responded to critique of the ‘.sucks’ domain by saying it is “designed to help consumers find their voices and allow companies to find the value in criticism.” Brand attacks are not new, though often they begin as social media campaigns against a brand for an actual or perceived poorly conceived ad campaign or exceptionally poor customer service experience. ‘Hater’ websites are not new, however, and there is some legal precedence to allow companies to purchase or retain the site name following an attack site being unveiled. PETA won a case against just such a ‘hater’ site in 1995, winning the right to the site name but not being granted damages from the false site’s misuse of their name. Proving damage to a brand may be easier for a smaller company but having to fight it out in court may be out of the reach of many.
The price of the domain drops to $250 when they go public later this month, so many companies will probably rush to grab up the sites with their company name before they can be purchased by others. ‘Squatting’ is another issue, where people buy the domain names with the intent to turn back around and sell them at a mark up, much like flipping a house. Businesses that cannot afford the $2,500 price tag and want to wait for the $250 rate will need to be ready to grab their site or they may face dealing with a squatter and wishing they had paid ICANN the higher rate to begin with.