What Happens When Your Startup Gets Trolled By A Bigger Company?

Museum Hack
Renegade Tours

At Museum Hack, we set keyword alerts to monitor search engines and social media for terms relevant to us. The #1 term we watch for is “Museum Hack.” When we get these alerts, it’s usually good news: either someone has linked to us or Tweeted about us. Great!

But earlier this week our keyword alerts became keyword alarms…

Something was off — our Customer Support team started getting calls asking about tickets to museums in London and Las Vegas (where we don’t operate yet).

After a little bit of investigation, we found out a bigger brand was pumping out articles that used our name (but had nothing to do with us), in what appears to be an attempt to game their search engine results.

In this article, we share the full story, but it boils down to this:

  1. What’s in a name?
  2. What’s in a brand?
  3. And what happens when your startup gets trolled by a bigger company?

What’s in a name?

About 418 years ago, Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Willie’s point is that the artificial title we use to bundle characteristics together can be changed without affecting the quality of that bundle. Profound!

In North America, we have dentists. The Chinese name literally translates to “tooth doctor.” But it’s the same thing: the guy or girl that cleans your teeth. Call him dentist, tooth doctor, or “Profession #A14J”, you are going to get the same work done.

And if we are talking about love, “quality regardless of title” is the ideal.

But in business, the relationship between name and characteristics can be flipped on it’s head, i.e., sometimes the name is the constant and the characteristics are variable.

At Museum Hack, we have two constants: our team and our name. Everything else, including our product offering, operating cities, mission, etc. change and tend to improve over time.

And that’s normal for a startup: you continuously iterate (more so at the beginning, but for most companies the improvement-cycle should never end).

Here’s an example…

Museum gallery activity group with musical instruments.
Our unconventional museum tours are new, different, and exciting.

When I started Museum Hack back in 2013, our only product was unconventional museum tours (we take yoga breaks, play games, tell the untold stories, etc.). But honestly there isn’t a ton of money in museum tours. We do them because it’s fun, and we want to help the world see that museums are f***ing awesome!

But over time our team, “constant #1”, have become experts at a few key things that big companies are willing to pay to learn. We’ve become experts at team building, storytelling, and marketing to millennials, to name a few. We teach what we know worldwide via private tours and workshops. Our increasing revenues allows us to reinvest in our team so that we can continue to improve and offer better service, etc. It’s good!

None of this is to brag. A lot of businesses earn more than we do and have grown faster than we have. The point is that we’ve been able to grow, and can offer two very different services under the umbrella of “Museum Hack,” our brand name.

What’s in a brand?

There is definitely some overlap between the terms “name” and “brand,” but we want to distinguish them here…

The company name is the intangible; it’s the constant that ties the bundle of characteristics together.

The company brand is near-tangible; it’s an asset that you invest in that changes over time and has value in the market.

And we’ve been investing in our brand since we started…

  1. We’ve invested tens of thousands of dollars in our website — design, content, traffic, etc.
  2. We’ve spent thousands of hours making our tours remarkable, learning from our clients, building our social media presence, repurposing and creating unique content for professionals in the museum space, etc.
  3. Our team does frequent “trainages” and “hangages” where we play, work on improving our skills, and develop the Museum Hack brand together.

And the result is a brand we are proud of. It’s a brand that people increasingly know and want to tell their friends about. It has been featured on PBS, the Wall Street Journal, and TedX. And it has a great reputation with a growing list of clients: Fortune 500 companies and the world’s top museums.

We’ve also taken steps to protect our brand. We hired a law firm to register the trademark for us. And when some museums have borrowed the name, “Museum Hack,” we’ve politely asked them to refrain — we don’t want confusion in the market or to dilute that brand value we’ve worked so hard for.

Which brings us back to the keyword alarms from earlier this week.

What happens when a bigger company trolls your startup?

First, let me show you the company and what they are doing (I’m not going to link to them here).

The company is Travel & Leisure, a niche publication by Time, Inc., “one of the largest branded media companies in the world reaching more than 120 million people each month across multiple platforms.” Time has 50 global offices and 90 brands, including People, FORTUNE and Sports Illustrated. Time is huge!

And yet for the last week, Time’s Travel & Leisure has been hijacking our small brand for a little SEO juice.

Museum Hack Startup Gets Trolled by Travel and Leisure

The image above shows one of the articles written by Travel & Leisure. So far we’ve found five, plus social media shares with Museum Hack #hashtags promoting them.

FYI: What the Travel & Leisure writer is doing here is gaming the search engine results, i.e., she hopes that by starting the title with “Museum Hack” (a term more and more people are searching for because of us), that her article will show up on the search result pages more often. The article has nothing to do with “hacking” the museum — it’s just basic information like operating hours and a few recommendations for exhibits to checkout.

BTW: Museum Hack uses the term “Hack” in a unique way. We offer one-of-a-kind, highly interactive, fun museum tours. It takes thousands of hours of expert training to create the best live experience in a museum — not a couple “can’t miss paintings.”

We don’t want to blow this out of proportion and we know, objectively, five articles isn’t very many. But it’s like when someone “forgets” to pay you back $20 — it’s not the amount that irks you, it’s the principle.

And here is what we are going to do about it…

We are going to keep spreading the good word, that museums are f***ing awesome! Because that’s what we are the best at, and that’s what is going to keep pushing us forward — not getting disgruntled about or wasting time with a small blip on our radar.

It’s kind of a compliment that such a big company wants to take advantage of us. And even though they are borrowing our name, we will always have the brand. And brand power isn’t something you can copy/paste — it’s alchemy, not science.

Have you ever seen a big brand take advantage of a little one? Share your story in the comments below.


 

[EDIT] The same day we published this post, T+L reached out with a friendly email. They mentioned their track record in supporting business — small and big alike. And also helped explain the use of “Museum Hack” in the various titles. From their email:

 

I want to explain that this was by no means was this an SEO play, and certainly not an active attempt to “troll” you. I hadn’t actually personally heard of your site when we greenlit the series, which was conceived only to make the oft-daunting process of navigating large city museums a little easier and friendlier for our audience, who are avid lovers of arts and culture. The idea of “hacks” comes up all the time in what we publish—how to pack better, how to find a fantastic hotel for less than $200 a night, how to do Chiang Mai markets like a pro—and here we’re using the word as a synonym for “tips,” “tricks,” etc. It’s the 2015, digitally savvy way of conveying that sentiment—Lifehacker, Ikea Hacks, etc. etc.—and it was a common theme on the site for August, when much of our content was geared around vacation hacks, as in, how to vacation better than ever before. The Museum Hacks column falls under that purview. Again, absolutely no assault intended.

 

We appreciate their clarification and proactive effort!

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