In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, maintaining a solid reputation is crucial for businesses and individuals alike. With the rise of online interactions and the power of social media, one negative incident can quickly tarnish your brand image and impact your bottom line.
That’s where brand safety tools come into play. These powerful resources offer a proactive approach to safeguarding your reputation and ensuring your online presence remains untarnished. In this blog post, we’ll explore the ins and outs of using brand safety tools effectively.
From understanding their importance to implementing them strategically, you’ll discover practical tips and insights that will help you protect your hard-earned reputation in the digital realm. Get ready to take control of your brand’s safety and secure a positive online image that resonates with your audience.
Keep reading for actionable ways you can use brand safety tools and examples of effective tools that will help you minimize risk on social.
What is brand safety?
Brand safety means ensuring that a business’s ads aren’t associated with inappropriate content that could damage the brand’s reputation. This includes creating policies and measures to protect the brand from appearing alongside content that could be offensive, controversial, illegal or unethical.
Brand safety is most often discussed in the context of paid ads. That’s because social media ads can be a big investment — but they can also pose a serious risk. In 2021, brands spent $181.2 billion globally on social advertising, and that number has only increased since then.
But brand safety isn’t just about paid media. It also applies to organic social or really anywhere that a brand could appear online. In recent years, people have even started talking about “brand suitability,” which is less about avoiding risk and more about proactively associating your brand with positive placements that reinforce your existing reputation.
Why does brand safety matter?
Taking a proactive approach to brand safety is the best way for marketers to safeguard their brand’s reputation. And your brand’s reputation matters — a lot.
A strong brand reputation means the public considers your brand trustworthy. When you’ve earned someone’s trust, they’re more likely to do business with you and recommend your services to others. A negative brand reputation, though, can tank sales and cause major damage to your brand.
In fact, 67% of consumers say they would likely stop using a brand’s product or service if they saw the brand’s advertising alongside false, objectionable, or inflammatory content.
A brand safety incident can also damage your brand’s relationships with partners, suppliers, and other collaborators.
No matter how big or small your digital marketing budget is, spending time to optimize brand safety will help you make the most of your dollars spent.
What are brand safety tools?
Brand safety tools are automated solutions that protect your brand from threats on social media and other digital channels, including major reputational risks such as your ads appearing alongside distasteful content.
Brand safety tools can also track conversations about your company online: They monitor what people are commenting on your posts and ads, how your brand hashtags are being used and the discourse surrounding your brand.
With this intel on hand, you are empowered to respond to reputational risks before they become a full-blown crisis, and expand the breadth of your corporate communications strategy.
Platform-by-platform brand safety best practices
Meta’s created a Brand Safety Hub where marketers can customize their brand safety settings which apply to ads shown across Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, Whatsapp, and the Meta Audience Network.
Before running your next Facebook or Instagram ad campaign, we recommend reviewing the following settings in your Brand Safety Hub:
- Inventory filter. Marketers can choose the sensitivity level of the content that ads can appear within. Note that when choosing limited inventory, your reach will be reduced and you may pay higher ad costs.
- Block list. Allows you to input specific URLs, Facebook pages, or Instagram profiles where you don’t want ads to appear.
- Topic exclusions. If you’re running in-stream video ads, you can opt out of specific placements in videos about gaming, news, politics, and religion & spirituality.
- Delivery reports. If you’re not sure which sources to add to your block lists or exclusions, you can review delivery reports to see where your past ads were shown. If you spot a publisher or placement that you want to avoid in the future, you can add it to your block list directly from the report.
Given its roots as a conversation-focused platform, there has always been a higher level of scrutiny on Twitter’s brand safety risks.
Some ways that you can protect your brand on Twitter:
- Adjacency controls. Add up to 1,000 negative keywords to control the tweets that are shown above and below your ad in a user’s timeline.
- Campaign placements. Control where your ads are placed. You can exclude locations such as within search results, on user profiles, and in replies.
- Content opt-outs. Choose specific content categories where you don’t want ads to be shown.
- Block list. Exclude individual publishers you don’t want your ads to be shown alongside.
- App exclusions. If you’re advertising on the Twitter Audience Platform, you can exclude up to 2,000 apps.
- Keyword exclusions. When setting up your ad campaign, you can add negative keywords to prevent your ads from appearing in search results for those terms and being served to users who have tweeted or engaged with those terms.
Although TikTok has had relatively less time than its peers to develop its brand safety policies, the platform already offers a strong combination of industry-standard settings and third-party tools that should reassure any marketer who wants to advertise on TikTok.
Here’s how to use TikTok’s brand safety features:
- Inventory filter. TikTok uses machine learning to analyze the text, audio, and more within a video to define its risk level. Advertisers can then choose their preferred safety level for ads to appear adjacent to.
- OpenSlate. TikTok offers a third-party tool called OpenSlate which calculates what percentage of ad impressions were deemed “brand safe.”
- IAS partnership. Advertisers can opt-in to TikTok’s Integral Ad Science (IAS)’s integration when setting up a campaign, which ensures ads run adjacent to safe content. Post-campaign, advertisers can check the IAS report to see ad viewability, invalid traffic, and app-level brand safety.
- Comment management. TikTok allows advertisers to block comments based keywords, hide or show individual comments, choose a pinned comment, turn comments off, and export comments for bulk analysis.
Most of LinkedIn’s brand safety controls are applicable when advertising on the LinkedIn Audience Network, which are sites and apps outside of LinkedIn where brands’ ads can be served.
The main settings include:
- Block list. If you’re advertising on the LinkedIn Audience Network, you can review the whole list of publishers to know where your ads could potentially appear. If you spot any you’d like to exclude, you can do so by adding them to a block list.
- Allow list. If you’d like LinkedIn to prioritize specific publishers when placing your ads, you can do so by adding them to an allow list.
- Third-party apps. LinkedIn allows you to connect external apps like DoubleVerify, which helps brands avoid unsuitable content and appear on contextually relevant sites and apps..
Pinterest has high brand safety standards and has developed solid advertiser- and user-focused policies.
Here are some settings to protect your brand on Pinterest:
- Turn off comments. For organic pins, brands have the freedom to delete comments or turn them off altogether. For paid pins, users cannot comment (this is a default setting and can’t be changed).
- Ad placements. Marketers can manually choose where ads are shown, including browse (home feeds and related pins), search, or all placements.
- Keyword exclusions. Marketers can use negative keywords to exclude their ads from being served in search results associated with those keywords.
- Expanded targeting opt-out. Normally, expanded targeting allows Pinterest to expand the reach of your ads by serving them to people outside of the keywords and interests you specify. However, if you don’t want to risk ads being shown in undesirable contexts, you can turn this setting off.
In 2017, YouTube came under scrutiny for showing ads alongside controversial videos, which resulted in many large brands boycotting YouTube ads. Since then, Google has worked hard to develop its brand safety features to win back the trust of marketers.
These features should help maximize the safety of your brand’s YouTube ads:
- Inventory modes. By default, YouTube will never show your ads on the most controversial content. That means you’ll never have to worry about your ads appearing on videos with terrorist acts, nudity, and recent sensitive events. With inventory modes, marketers can control the types of contextual violence, profanity, and sexual content that ads appear adjacent to (such as comedy, music videos, and videos showing video games).
- Content exclusions. You can choose to opt out of embedded YouTube videos (shown on websites outside of YouTube.com) and live videos (which can be riskier).
- Negative keywords. Keywords that you add to a blocklist will be used to filter based on keywords in headlines, descriptions, tags, and metadata.
- Brand safety targeting. Allows marketers to target ads based on digital content labels (i.e. suitability for general to mature audiences), sensitive categories, and third-party verification services (including IAS and DoubleVerify).
As the amount of content on the internet continues to grow, guaranteeing brand safety has become more challenging. By following our guidelines and taking advantage of safety tools, you can mitigate risk and ensure your brand is protected.
4 ways to use brand safety tools to protect your reputation
Here are specific ways you can use a range of brand safety tools to preserve your brand’s reputation.
1. Use the built-in brand safety tools for each social network
Your first line of defense against your branded ads appearing alongside offensive content includes the in-platform tools provided by the major social networks. Factor them into your social media advertising strategy to minimize risk and maximize the impact of your campaigns.
- Meta platforms: Meta offers several brand safety controls that work across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. These features allow you to choose the level of control over where your ad appears. Placements can be restricted by content topic, format and source.
- Twitter: Twitter’s Brand Safety Marketing Collection offers both technical and general advice on how to keep your brand safe on the network. These features allow you to keep Twitter a safe place for your brand and community.
- YouTube: In 2022, YouTube received content-level brand safety accreditation from the Media Rating Council for the second year in a row. Their continued accreditation speaks to the many initiatives Google has taken to ensure advertisers get the most out of their investments in the network. YouTube’s brand safety features are consistent with those available through Google search and display ads.
- TikTok: TikTok launched its Brand Safety Center to provide marketers with up-to-date news and recommendations on brand suitability within the network. As its footprint in the social media landscape grows, the TikTok team has been hard at work creating brand safety solutions within their ad platform including the TikTok Inventory Filter and some pre- and post-bid safety tools.
Adidas’ recent campaign is a brand safety success story. The retailer used TikTok to highlight its partnership with basketball star Candace Parker. To deliver the message, Adidas wanted to make sure the ad campaign would be surrounded by content suitable for the brand “without sacrificing scale or performance.” By using the TikTok Inventory Filter brand safety solution, Adidas could reach their audience without compromising their brand values. The campaign received 57 million impressions, a 99.9% brand safety rate and a 99.9% brand suitability rate.
2. Use social listening to see what people are saying about your brand online
Social listening helps you keep a pulse on what people are saying about your brand online, even when you aren’t tagged or mentioned. This intel gives you the audience insights you need to create a customer-centric social strategy. And, if a brand crisis emerges, listening reveals “the why” behind negative feedback to help you understand the root cause.
Social listening allows you to:
- Monitor brand sentiment to get ahead of a crisis.
- Analyze how people respond to your organic posts and paid ads in one place.
- Track branded hashtags and related keywords.
- Find and address copycat or impersonation accounts and other security threats.
You can complete a social listening exercise today to find out if there are any risks you should be aware of. Mind you, if an unexpected emergency does come up, manual social listening might not be proactive or extensive enough.
With a tool like Sprout’s AI-powered social listening solution, the platform does the heavy lifting for you, sifting through millions of data points to deliver the trends, insights and key learnings you need in seconds.
You’re enabled to track unfiltered conversations about business-critical topics, like how people are reacting to your latest ad campaign, product launch or social responsibility initiative. For example, you can view brand sentiment trends at a glance within the platform, which helps you visualize how people are reacting to your brand in real time.
To see it in action, read how the Atlanta Hawks use social listening to track relevant keywords and hashtags related to their campaigns, and use the data to demonstrate the organization-wide impact of their efforts.
3. Monitor message activity and frequency to stay ahead of a crisis
Your social inboxes are like a vital sign that measures your brand health. For the most part, an average volume of messages means things are business as usual. But an unexpected spike can be cause for concern. It could indicate a PR disaster is on the horizon or has already arrived.
Manually monitoring incoming messages 24/7 is unrealistic, which is why having a tool that monitors message activity and notifies you of a sudden influx is imperative to stay ahead of a crisis.
Take Message Spike Alert notifications connected to Sprout’s Smart Inbox. When incoming messages across your social platforms exceed the hourly average, you immediately get email or mobile push notifications. Plus, you can customize the tool’s sensitivity settings to ensure the protocol is appropriate for your team.
Curious how real brands use this feature? Read more about how Allegiant Air depends on the Smart Inbox to stay alert to incoming messages. In two years, they were able to increase their message response rate by 77% and bolster engagements by 2.6 million.
4. Use employee advocacy tools to reduce risk from in-house posts
Something we believe wholeheartedly at Sprout is that a brand’s employees are its greatest superpower. When your employees share your content, they amplify your reach and give you a powerful endorsement. However, even the most well-meaning employees can tip public favor against you by saying the wrong thing.
By using an employee advocacy tool, you empower your employees by providing them with pre-approved social messages to share. These message ideas help you maintain a consistent brand voice and enable your employees to comply with your brand guidelines. To that end, you’re able to restrict the available social networks your content can be shared on, too—decreasing your risk of liability even further.
Sprout’s Employee Advocacy platform enables you to put all your shareable content in one place so employees can quickly and easily post to their social networks. Whether your goal is to drive brand awareness, generate leads or attract top talent, advocacy can make a measurable impact, while reducing the risks that come with employees’ individual social media use.
Read how our Advocacy platform helped Vizient transform their awareness strategy during COVID, triple their impressions and make thought leadership accessible to their employees—all while minimizing risks to their brand.
How to protect your brand on social media
Brand safety may be one of the biggest challenges for brands online, largely due to the UGC nature of social media platforms. After all, you can’t stop users from mentioning your brand alongside offensive content.
However, we’ll tell you six things you can do to protect your brand safety.
Social listening is a marketer’s best line of defense when it comes to avoiding brand safety incidents.
With a tool like Hootsuite, you can use multiple streams to do things like:
- Set alerts for your brand name + “crisis keywords/phrases,” such as “disaster,” “nightmare,” “accident,” “horrific,” and “never again”
- Set thresholds to detect spikes in mentions, messages, and comments
- Monitor your brand for large changes in sentiment, which may indicate a negative or positive customer situation
You can also use an advanced social listening tool like Hootsuite Insights powered by Brandwatch. Insights can help you monitor social sentiment over time and put out (metaphorical) fires before they start.
What’s just as important as having a well-planned, strategy-based content calendar? Knowing when not to post.
A social media crisis plan is a great tool to protect your brand’s safety. Here’s what it should include:
- Criteria for when to pause posts during major world events (and criteria to decide when to resume posting)
- Guidelines for responses to large volumes of customer complaints and issues
- Messaging approval processes and contact information for key stakeholders required for approvals
- Internal communications plan
With Hootsuite, you can pause all posts with one click and show a warning for all users in your organization.
These days, more and more employees are creating content related to their employers. But with any collaboration, there’s risk.
Employers can’t control employees’ personal profiles. That means even employee-generated content can jeopardize brand safety.
One way to mitigate this risk is to establish a social media policy. These documents outline what employees can and can’t do. They also explain how to be good employee advocates.
Even if the content you post to your accounts is carefully curated and well-aligned with your social media policies, public comments and messages left by followers (or trolls) may be far from it.
To make sure that you never miss a tricky message, use a unified social media inbox to capture interactions from all of your accounts.
With Hootsuite Inbox, you can bridge the gap between social listening, brand safety, engagement, and customer service — and manage all of your social media messages in one place. This includes:
- Private messages and DMs
- Public messages and posts on your profiles
- Dark and organic comments
- Emoji reactions
… and mor
The all-in-one agent workspace makes it easy to
- Track the history of any individual’s interactions with your brand on social media (across your accounts and platforms), giving your team the context needed to personalize replies
- Add notes to customers’ profiles (Inbox integrates with Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics)
- Handle messages as a team, with intuitive message queues, task assignments, statuses, and filters
- Track response times and CSAT metrics
Plus, Inbox comes with handy automations:
- Automated message routing
- Auto-responses and saved replies
- Automatically triggered customer satisfaction surveys
- AI-powered chatbot features
Reduce response time (and your workload)
Manage all your messages stress-free with easy routing, saved replies, and friendly chatbots. Try Hootsuite’s Inbox today.
5. Define your brand’s safety threshold
Before executing a brand safety strategy, you’ll need to know your brand’s risk tolerance.
Some topics, like pornography, terrorism, and misinformation, are obvious no-gos. But depending on their values, brands may also choose to avoid topics like religion, politics, and nudity.
Most ad platforms offer the option to choose different risk levels of content your ads will appear adjacent to. The levels range from limited (least risky, less reach) to broad (more risky, higher reach).
If you know there are terms or phrases that you never want your brand’s content to be associated with, you can input a list of these terms as “negative keywords” into a blocklist to avoid related placements.
Be wary, though, as negative targeting can decrease your reach unintentionally. For example, a word like “knife” may exclude cooking videos or recipe blogs.
Pro tip: Use your brand’s safety threshold and brand values to come up with negative keywords. Make sure to update them regularly, and consult your social care and customer service teams for terms to include.
Effective brand safety solutions
To get started crisis-proofing your brand, learn more about these brand safety tools and how they can help you face (and overcome) common threats.
1. Sprout Social
Sprout Social is a powerful solution for social media management. And, as we mention throughout this article, our platform improves your brand safety on social with automated tools and processes.
To recap, you can use Sprout to:
- Quickly gauge public perception of your brand and products, and proactively monitor emerging risks.
- Stay alert to increases in message volume that could indicate crises, time-sensitive events and other urgent situations.
- Centralize all your shareable content into one secure place and provide pre-approved, shareable social messages to your employees—reducing risk, while helping you make huge impacts on your social performance.
Ready to put your brand’s safety first? Start using Sprout’s intuitive platform to dig into conversations about your brand online and monitor your inbound messages today with a free 30-day trial.
While Sprout can cover many important brand safety and reputational needs, here are a few other targeted solutions you can consider to round out your strategy.
Proofpoint is a threat-protection solution that fortifies brands and data against cyber attacks. On social, their Digital Risk Protection tool provides real-time security features for branded accounts.
You can use it to:
- Search accounts by image to discover brand misuse.
- Scan for fraudulent and brand protest accounts.
- Receive alerts for risky accounts that require takedown or legal review.
- Send automated alerts to internal stakeholders when risky accounts are detected.
3. Adobe Analytics
Adobe Advertising Cloud Brand Safety Tools deliver industry-leading solutions that ensure your ads display in the best possible light. With these tools, the computer software company goes beyond creativity and enters the world of brand safety and security.
Adobe tools protect your brand by:
- Detecting and mitigating faulty inventory.
- Identifying and preventing fraud, brand violations and suboptimal viewing.
- Ensuring you only pay for meaningful media placements.
Zefr enables digital advertising effectiveness, while ensuring brand and social responsibility values are upheld in the world’s largest platforms (i.e., Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Snapchat and Pinterest).
This leader in brand suitability allows you to:
- Activate and measure brand suitability according to industry-leading Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) standards.
- Enable brand-suitable advertising efforts and precise activation.
How to Build Your Brand Safety Guidelines into Your Social Media Strategy
Because of the importance of brand protection, your business should take steps to help protect your brand. Managing your ads will not only help you maintain your reputation but also help you manage your reputation.
Use the block option
It’s important to be vigilant, especially when it comes to blocking certain scripts or blocking fraudulent ads. Quickly block things like bots, ad stacking, and ghost sites to protect your brand. By staying active and working diligently to monitor and prevent fraudulent advertising, you can take better control of your reputation.
It is also important to block certain scripts that threaten your brand’s safety. Facebook is an example of a social media site where you can block dangerous articles, such as social conflict, gambling, dating, tragedy, and conflict. Prevent your ad from ending up on websites or apps that are inappropriate for your brand by blocking certain categories.
Other data providers provide targeted lists for social media, which include people’s social status, age, gender, interests, and more. Models depend on third-party data providers, so your business needs to understand how third-party data works.
Follow your goal setting. It is important to learn how to avoid certain situations that put your ad in a bad position. Maintain control of your score and manage your target audience. It is also important to analyze the said social media. When your brand name is mentioned on social media, you need to know it, whether it is good or bad.
Social media policy
Creating a social media strategy for your brand keeps your business reputation safe and secure. Your team should be aware of legal, operational, brand vision, brand voice, and privacy risks. Include your company’s employees and draw their attention to your username.