For most companies, protecting themselves online is a fairly straightforward exercise: Watch the internet for references to their name(s) or brand(s), and take action against those that may cause them harm. This process has been sufficient for years, resulting in thousands of malicious blogs and comments being removed from the public eye. However, with the more recent explosion of social media sites, a new form of potentially damaging name/brand infringement has arisen: username squatting.
Facebook, the largest social media site on the internet with over 500 million users, and Twitter, with around 200 million users, provide an unrivalled opportunity for businesses to connect with existing and potential clients alike. Helping people solve “customer service” issues or presenting new marketing materials via these social media sites (and others like LinkedIn or MySpace) have enabled businesses to extend their reach, and show their commitment to being a successful online presence. Some people, however, have exploited these sites in order to vent their frustrations with the company in public, which can do much more harm than any of the good the company is trying to convey.
These people, who we’ll call “squatters”, will register new accounts on these social media sites with usernames that contain the name of the company, executives, or services offered, and use these accounts to convey negative – or in some cases, completely fraudulent – sentiments and stories.
This has the initial effect of confusing the reader (existing or potential customers, or the public at large), but often astute readers quickly catch on that they are not entirely legitimate. Regardless of the potential mindsets of the readers, companies need to ensure that their name and brand is protected against this kind of misinformation, and oftentimes the most effective way is to get the fraudulent account disabled by the social media site directly.
The problem is that each one of these social media sites has their own policies with regards to impersonation, and navigating the proper channels to achieve the desired goal can sometimes be a frustrating exercise. Some sites, like facebook, simply disable the account and claim the username for themselves. Some sites, like LinkedIn, require signed affidavits before they will take action. Some sites, like Twitter, allow “parody” accounts, but take action against accounts that are deliberately confusing readers. As you can see, for the average company legal or marketing person, figuring out who to contact, what information to provide, and what to expect can be an uphill battle.