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Interbrand Blog | Social Media and Brand Names: protect your names.

We learned the hard way, when the world wide web opened up for mass use, what it means to have cyber-squatters. Brands late to the game found themselves in the midst of fighting for usage rights of their own URL handles, and squatters rubbing their palms – and coins – together in profitable glee.

And yet, it seems our memory is short. Some did not learn from these costly mistakes.

As the likes of Twitter, YouTube and Facebook have gained mass adoption, those brands treading cautiously around them forgot one simple rule: always protect your brand name. Always. Regardless of approach – whether you want to take your time deciding on the right strategy for social media, or even if you never intend on using these platforms – it always pays to protect your name.

A recent AdvertisingAge article found that many marketers that have not registered brand names or handles are concerned over their brand reputation. According to the article:

“A quick survey of accounts for the top 100 national advertisers, as ranked by Advertising Age’s DataCenter, shows that surprisingly few have ownership of the Twitter handles that correspond to the names of their companies or their brands.”

Companies being squatted on include General Motors, Nestle, and MasterCard – all using variations of their brand names (e.g., MasterCardNews). A surprise on the list? Burger King. Even Walmart is grappling with the issue. Twitter, in the meantime:

“…has hinted heavily that a “Twitter Pro” service is coming, figuring this issue for marketers and trademarked brands will be an increasing headache.”

While many squatters don’t actively use the accounts, there’s always the risk one could use it negatively. And while, on Twitter, inactive handles tend not to rank high in search results, it can still be a source of frustration for brands when trying to wrest their names back from anonymous squatters.

Registering Names and Handles

Like URLs, it’s important to reserve or register brand names on major social media platforms – and consider also reserving both good and bad variations of the name.

Jerome McDonnell, Interbrand’s Trademark Consultant advises:

“From a trademark perspective, a user name or domain name that’s already taken, by itself is not an automatic trademark conflict.  If the person who registered it did so legitimately, they are entitled to it. Of course, if bad faith or intent to confuse/deceive the public is evident, there is recourse – but better to avoid this by first reserving them yourself.”

Social Media Strategy

Protecting your name doesn’t just mean registering it – it means knowing what people are saying, and responding when appropriate.

Nora Geiss, Senior Consultant and social media expert at Interbrand says:

“Hire social-savvy people passionate about your brand to get in the conversation. Fact is, “bad press” isn’t always so bad – it might give you presence to an audience that you might not normally reach. Having people who “get” this environment will help you focus your attention on the areas that actually make an impact with people you want to engage. Protection isn’t just about being reactive, but proactive.”

While plans for using social media platforms may vary today, brands can’t always anticipate where their strategy, or their customers needs, will lead them. It’s then you’ll want to have those names secured, protected and ready for use.

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