Unfortunately, the Internet is full of impersonators and fake company/brand profiles on a variety of popular social media platforms.
Some examples include a prominent movie producer who had his Linkedin account hacked, criminals who have created networks of fake online profiles on social networks in order to target individuals and their homes and even Google, who had its brand hijacked in a 2011 online pharmacy scam.
Every company, individual and brand needs to think carefully about their online reputation and plan accordingly. It often takes significant resources (and money) to undo the damage done by malicious name/brand hijackers and hackers.
The topic has received renewed interest because of the growing popularity of Pinterest. Ars Technica wrote about the controversy on Pinterest, where any user was able to can claim to be anybody – including major brands. Of course, the same happens on other social networks, but many (though not all) have a way to “verify” the person in question. Twitter has had mixed success with its verification process and Facebook requires extensive information to validate business and brand listings. But with Pinterest’s soaring popularity, it’s become an obvious target for brand hijackers – who often claim names for fun and not malicious purposes. Still, it is your name and brand, so shouldn’t you control it?
How can a business prevent social media brand hijacking? Well, instead of taking legal action (which will probably make matters worse), there are other solutions to make sure your brand is protected. Here are a few to consider.
1. Be on the look out
Major companies have teams of people keeping an eye out for any fake profiles and other means of bad brand reputation. While having a highly trained team to be the company’s watchdog sounds cool, sometimes it’s not in the budget.
Casually scanning the Internet for any bad reputation is good enough, and there are free resources out there to keep tabs on your business (like Google Alerts). Also, companies should always sign up with upcoming social networks to ensure their brand is already registered–even if you have no intention of using the website, ever. And if you don’t know where to start, companies like ours offer affordable services where we’ll scour the web and let you know exactly how secure your brand is on the dozens of social media platforms available.
2. Asking nicely
Sometimes brute force isn’t the answer, even though it’s tempting to push around the little guy with a team of lawyers when it comes to business. Brand reputation can be easily tarnished online and asking nicely is a good option. While it may not work, asking for them to take down the profile might be all that is needed. And if it doesn’t, at least you can show that you *tried* to play nice.
3. Always think ahead
Brand reputation is kind of like a game of Chess – you really have to be about five steps ahead. Protecting your brand also means planning for the inevitable. Do you have a website with a .com extension? Did you remember to buy the URL for the .net and .org extension? What about misspellings of your company’s name?
4. Killing ’em with kindness
Sometimes a brand or company will lash out when their brand reputation is in jeopardy, which only makes matters worse. Like with asking nicely, using kindness to keep your reputation positive is another way to deter impersonators. Contact them directly, publicly even, with kindness.
5. Go straight to the search engine
Everything is indexed online to be easily found on search engines. If asking nicely or being patient with the impersonator doesn’t work, cut off their ranking ties with the big boys like Google and Yahoo.
Ask the search engines directly to take down the offending content. Though, be careful: this option can take quite awhile to see any actual effects, or, the search engines could rule in the impersonator’s favor.
6. Always have a “In Case of Emergency” plan
So, you find yourself in a bit of a Public Relations crisis. Instead of winging it and hoping for the best, have a plan of action already drafted and ready to go. Sometimes even major companies like Sony can flub, like when Sony lost people’s user data on the PlayStation Network. If a crisis quickly erupts, don’t be afraid to call in the experts. Just like a small brush fire can easily become a wildfire if the conditions are right, what might seem to be a small online inconvenience (such as an impersonator using your brand name on a social media network) can quickly boil over if they say or do things that reflect poorly on your brand.
With Pinterest rising in popularity and additional social media networks sure to come, companies need to become even more proactive about protecting their brand One mishap can be very costly.
Companies that aren’t sure where to begin can request a free online analysis that shows exactly which social media networks may already contain their name – as well as those networks which they should nab their names. Knowledge is power – instead of just winging it, prepare your business for an ongoing online brand-building (and protecting) process. Our free analysis can help any business, big or small, find out if their brand is potentially compromised.