Thursday, November 22, 2012

Online Brand Protection: Why You Need to Register Your Brand on Social Sites

 In December 2009 four Eurostar trains were trapped in the tunnel under the English Channel for many hours after melting snow caused electrical failures. Passengers trapped in the trains looked to the @Eurostar Twitter account for information but soon discovered that this account belonged to a student in Shanghai. According to a Techcrunch article at the time the only Twitter account controlled by the company was @LittleBreak, a promotional account.  Eurostar has learnt from this experience. They now own the @eurostar account and use it to engage with passengers, but it seems that many other businesses have still not learnt this lesson.

Few companies today would ignore Twitter, Facebook or YouTube completely, but many have a confusing presence with multiple official and semi-official accounts. It can be hard for consumers to distinguish between these and fan sites. On second tier sites like Pinterest many brands are completely absent. Maybe you are thinking that your company doesn't plan to use Pinterest so you can safely ignore it. But you can't. The same applies to other social and networking sites. The problem is that if you do not register your brands on these sites someone else can and usually will. At the very least this can confuse your customers; at worst it can damage your reputation when unofficial content is assumed to be an official communication of your company.

There are three common situations, each with it's own problems and solutions:

1. YOUR "SPACE" IS HIJACKED BY ADVERSARIES. This is the worst-case scenario. People using a social site will just assume that you are there and look for your brand. If you didn't grab that space then someone else might do it and use it to promote a rival business, opposition to your business or just complaints from disgruntled customers or employees. Since your brand is presumably a registered trademark in many cases you can simply request that the account be assigned to your company, but the simplest solution is to not let it happen in the first case.

2. YOUR SPACE IS OCCUPIED BY FANS. In this situation your space is occupied by people who like your brand and post positive content but it is not controlled by your company. Well-meaning fans can post content that embarrasses you or misuses your brand-related images. You could argue that it doesn't matter since you didn't do it, but you would be wrong. Consumers find it very hard to distinguish between official pages and fan pages. Author Nick Hornby, for example  has a Facebook page that looks just like it might be Nick Hornby's Facebook page, except that it isn't. It is a page created by a fan and there is a small note somewhere explaining that, but at first sight most people would mistake it for the real thing, especially since the only other page is a community page copied from Wikipedia. This could have been avoided if he had a real Facebook page of his own and this is the best solution because trying to discourage fans is likely to alienate your supporters.

3. YOUR SPACE IS OCCUPIED BY SQUATTERS. This is probably the best case because in this case they do not post any negative content and the only harm is that this does not look very professional. People are probably thinking that if you weren't smart enough to register a critical brand then you are probably a bit stuffy and old fashioned.  This is actually very easy to deal with because if your brand is a trademark you can normally assert your rights and request that the account be reassigned to you free of charge. If the account you are trying to secure isn't a trademark you can simply approach the person who controls it and offer to buy it. Some social sites forbid the buying and selling of usernames -- Twitter, for example -- so this is never done publicly. (For more about Twitter usernames see How To Obtain Inactive Twitter Usernames).

By far the best policy is to be proactive in brand protection, registering your brand names on any social site that is either popular or likely to become so. You can identify new sites simply by following the major technology blogs or you can use sites like knowem.com, which can check the availability of your brand on hundreds of social sites and, for a fee, also register them for you. You could limit the registrations to sites that you are confident will be successful, but since the registration of usernames is normally free you can save some worries and simply register your brand on every new site you see.  This approach is simpler but introduces a new risk that they might be forgotten and become ghost pages, as I explained in Cleaning Up Abandoned Pages in Social Media Ghost Towns. Part of an effective policy is to maintain a list of all the accounts you open and the passwords and make sure that this doesn't get lost as people come and go.


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