Griping, with an audience: Malcontents criticize companies online

As the power of the Internet grows, businesses small and large find themselves confounded by disenchanted employees, suppliers and competitors who find fertile ground to air grievances online.Armed with little more than a Web connection and keyboard, these detractors can irritate, via scathing reviews, or cause serious business problems by using online message boards, or even disclose company secrets and spread rumors of unethical behavior. They also might start a gripe site or register a Web address in another person’s name.

Good proactive plays can include registering gripe domain names as well as personalized e-mail addresses. Registering common misspellings as well as negative domain names is a good precaution as is covering tags including .biz and .org. Costs are minimal, some lower than $50 a year.Companies that sell products or services should trademark their names to prevent others from using then without authorization.

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