Even if your organisation is not ready to ‘go social’, there are three critical reasons why you should secure your name and your business’s name, and close variations of them, across digital media platforms. They are:
- Defensive – to prevent parody, spoofs, impersonation and hijacking
- Online reputation management (ORM) – to build reputation and manage online risk
- Forward-looking – to be in a position to activate a social media presence when it’s needed
What would you do if a crisis broke out and you were forced to go online to defend your reputation only to discover someone else owned accounts in your name, possibly even a hijacker?
This risk can be mitigated and, in an interconnected world driven by technology, should be an integral part of corporate governance.
One reason that should motivate you to sign up for social media regardless of your attitude towards it is the proliferation of parody accounts.
On the lighter side good parody accounts bring colour to online life. They are the equivalent of the funny extravert at the office who can lift the mood of everyone around them.
Parodies gain loyal followings and are highly valued, so much so that platforms have developed guidelines for creating them. For example, the parody account of Elizabeth Windsor, Queen of the United Kingdom, has over a million followers and is labelled fictional, as per Twitter’s guidelines.
The Queen satirises world events; her tweets are often funny and generally harmless as in the case of her recent April Fools’ Day joke, in which she announced her abdication.
However, organisations must guard against the kind of parody that makes them look out of touch or, worse, damages their reputation. Even when parody is not nasty it can be inconvenient.
For example, in Victoria in 2103 when the then Premier Ted Baillieu unexpectedly resigned, his successor @DenisNapthineMP announced on Twitter “at least I’m not burdened by high expectations”.
The announcement was made by the “not currently the Member for South West Coast in the Victorian Parliament and Premier of Victoria” fake account.
This account was set up within the Twitter guidelines, but it was the last thing a party knee-deep in crisis needed. A political party is a brand, and securing the names and titles of party representatives (like business trademarks) prevents them from being misused.
The reputational risk for parody accounts increases when they are mistaken by legitimate news sources as the real thing. Not only is the intent of the original spoof amplified but also the ‘mistaken identity’ creates a new story and news cycle.
In the case above, a TV news program tried to communicate with the new Premier through the account before being pointed in the right direction by a user.
Even established, well-regarded media outlets have been known to get it wrong. Last year CNN and Huffington Post reported stories based on tweets from a fake North Carolina Governor.
The error provided additional fuel for the spoofer, who used the event to reinforce the importance of source checking.
There are different views on how to deal with impersonation. Some people are happy to let a parody account run alongside their own and consider it a compliment. But businesses may have a legal obligation to manage them. In Australia, for example, once a business has registered a trademark it is responsible for protecting it.
Social media platforms already have processes in place to deal with violations.
On Twitter brand mark and trademark complaints, breaches of privacy, copyright complaints, impersonation and name squatting are all violations of its terms and can be reported.
Twitter also allows you to verify that you are who you say you are if your account is at risk of being parodied. For example, the blue tick next to the Australia comedian Dan Ilic’s account name confirms it is really him.
Twitter’s verification system however is less than perfect. For example, in 2012 the platform infamously verified the fake account of Rupert Murdoch’s now ex-wife @Wendy_Deng (although it was subsequently rescinded). At this time you cannot apply directly to Twitter to verify your account and so there are many genuine accounts that remain unverified.
Facebook allows users to verify accounts but distinguishes a verified from a fake account, which means having an account to compare it with in the first place.
Twitter and Instagram only accept violation reports from people who are signed up for their services. This is just one more reason to ensure you have a defensive presence that you are able to activate if required. Imagine having to sign up for a platform while in the chaos of a crisis.
I believe many businesses would feel more comfortable moving into social media if platforms offered verification (even as a paid service), as that would enable them to better manage associated risks.
In China, for example, the process for establishing an online presence is arduous but means that, once established, an online presence is highly trusted. The Chinese equivalent of Twitter, Sina Weibo, allows for personal verification, college verification, organisation verification and verification for official accounts (government departments, social media platforms and famous companies).
Because in Australia only 30% of small businesses and around 50% of medium-sized businesses have a social media presence and not all of those monitor what is happening in social media, an organisation may be parodied without even being aware of it.
Organisations can use a range of tools, including free and paid services, to increase their awareness of what is being said about their brand or business and audit its use. I believe the risk committee of the board should request monthly social media monitoring and audit reports. These are not onerous to produce and, given the range of tools available, can be tailored to suit the budget.
For example, Google and Yahoo Alerts – these free tools alert you when your name is mentioned online (although there can be a time lag and they are not adequate for businesses that deal with time-sensitive information, like companies which have an obligation to ensure the market trades fully informed).
Twitter Search – allows you to search for mentions of your brand on Twitter to see who is talking about you. This is a powerful tool given that there are 500 million tweets a day.
Brandle – paid services like Brandle can be used for social media discovery and to create an inventory of who is using social media legitimately and who may be misusing your brand or trademark.
Podwatch – specific trademark protection tools like this one from Podlegal in Australia assist businesses to monitor trademark applications and domain names.
Securing assets takes time as some platforms only allow one account per email address. Your IT people may have a solution like using Gmail aliases (check the terms and conditions of the platform first) and I am hoping that in the future platforms will recognise and adapt their offering to take business needs into accounts. In the meantime, given the risks, it is time well spent.
Make sure you secure:
Your domain name (the website address or URL) for your business. Just search ‘domain names’, there are hundreds of companies that sell them. You can check out the rules for domain names in Australia at IP Australia and get information on internet governance from the Department of Communications.
The Twitter handle for your organisation This is a must and, if you can, also secure the Twitter handles for your different product or service offerings. This will allow you to tailor content to specific audience segments. Deloitte is a great example of how to do this with their suite of Twitter handles covering everything from corporate news, to different services and life at Deloitte.