It’s Who Your Business Is
Identity theft is a catastrophic loss of one’s social standing in life. It can reduce a polished reputation to the stuff that nightmares are made of. It’s a scenario that often leaves people cleaning up after themselves, reorganizing their dossiers, re-organizing the puzzle pieces of what was once a complete life, now lying in a scattered mess on the floor, all because someone else mishandled it for there own benefit.
Victims of identity theft are often left to follow a trail left behind by the people that took their names, financial information, and reputations, in hopes that the those responsible will be found. More often than not there is little else than a trail of breadcrumbs that they are forced to clean up along the way. Getting one’s life back to normal can take a long time and it is a tiresome effort. Thus begins the constant vigilance, always checking credit scores and other similar services that track your everything that represents who you are in the hope of preventing it from happening again.
The same nightmare applies to brands on social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. Brand identity theft hurts a brand and all of the people within the it, along with the products and services they offer. Imagine all that the time and effort spent building a customer base, gaining their trust and loyalty, all to be ruined by someone who claimed to be that brand, and thus misrepresenting the high standards for which it is known.
Unfortunately, there are no governing bodies to protect domain names and social media handles from the grubby hands of domain squatters and general coat-tail riding identity thieves. Any brand with the foresight to claim the appropriate names early in the growing popularity of a social media service can minimize the chances of it happening. The alternative, is a lengthy and potentially costly legal affair where the brand must state it’s case for proving the rights to that social media presence.
Brand Implications and Misrepresentation
Music artist, and self-made brand mogul Kanye West had first-hand experience of brand identity misrepresentation. In 2009 when a Twitter user started Tweeting with the handle @kanyewest, it certainly caught the real Kanye’s attention. There is no doubt for his cause for concern, being an outspoken individual who likes spark controversy with his own words, he wasn’t going to have someone else doing it for him.
He complained about the impostor on his blog, which eventually caught Twitter’s attention and had them looking for a solution. After all, a large enough complaint from Kanye could be the impetus for others to come forward with similar complaints and, ironically enough, taint the Twitter brand. The issue was quickly resolved, with the real Kanye West taking ownership of the handle. The rest, as they say, is social media history.
Not too long ago Harley-Davidson experienced brand misrepresentation first-hand when a woman had acquired the domain name and used it for her personal Facebook profile. This was a perfect example of a well known brand not jumping on the social media wagon early enough, or at least not thinking ahead to the day when they might, and securing the domain for their purposes. The real Harley-Davidson eventually settled the matter between Facebook and the woman, leaving the motorcycle company in possession of the domain, where they now feature their products and showcase the motorcycle culture they are well known for.
Who Are You?
It’s not up to the users to determine whether or not a social media presence is real and belongs to the actual brand, or if it’s a fake with misleading, harmful information that can turn people away forever. That responsibility belongs to the brand. It’s twenty-first century public relations that should be part of the proactive goal of maintaing a brand’s products and services in the best light. As with traditional public relations, a bad reputation for whatever reason needs to be put under control before it tarnishes the name and all of the people behind it.
Claiming Facebook Handles
Just recently, Facebook began offering custom domain names for their users. Previously, they were forced to look at string of alphanumerics in the browser’s address bar, which proved at best, confusing. Claiming a custom Facebook domain can be done so at facebook.com/username. Facebook offers pre-defined domains which are based on the user’s name registered wit the account profile. They are also able to check the availability of a different domain name, if the ones recommend by Facebook don’t suit their fancy.
Claiming Twitter Handles
Twitter’s trademark policy states that any name, logo or other trademark-protected materials that are used to mislead or confuse others is in violation of that policy. Complaints and disputes filed with Twitter are taken seriously. If Twitter determines any misrepresentation in that manner, they suspend the account and notify that user about it. They are then given the opportunity state their reasons for registering the Twitter handle and their intentions for its. Twitter then decides who gets the handle, and each instance is handled on a case-by-case basis.
The Future of Social Media Brand Status
A more stringent application process for Twitter handles and Facebook domains would minimize the efforts of squatters and impersonators. Making high-profile brands pay for these handles and domains would also generate revenue for the various social media channels. For example, proposing a price tag of one-thousand dollars to purchase an official Twitter handle would certainly keep many people well away form even attempting to take them, unless it was the actual brand itself, which in most cases would be able to afford the fee.
For now, there are several things one can do to avoid the theft of a brand’s online identity on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the like: Act early, work fast to secure the identity, and promote your brand with it. In the event that someone has already claimed an identity that you feel is rightfully yours and happens to infringe on your brand’s products or services, consult with that social media channel’s trademark policies and begin to plot your course of action. In most cases the issue can be resolved with minimal effort, but it never hurts to have legal representation close at hand, should the time come if and when you need to use it.
See Also: "Social Media Content Management"