Brand protection – much more than just domain names!
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the issue of brand protection in a social media world, and what brands need to know in order to protect themselves properly. But not just in terms of your traditional brands, mind you. Online ‘brands’ these days encompasses everything from companies to celebrities, and even catch-phrases and ‘memes’. So what has got me thinking about this, I hear you (quietly) ask?
The ‘event’ that first brought the issue to mind was a client of Tamar’s who was having trouble getting hold of their brand name for their Twitter account. They asked me if I could contact Twitter and enquire about getting control of the name in question, which I subsequently did. The client in question (who I won’t name) has a fairly unambiguous name, so I’m hoping it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. But what about companies with more tenuous / common names?
Unlike the days of purely offline, where copyright and “IP” issues could be settled in court fairly easily, the internet has brought us 101 opportunities for people to start up companies on the back of a lucky domain name purchase or a bit of foresight – anyone who knows about SEO will tell you that getting a good keyword-based domain name can be the building blocks of a very successful website (amongst other things), so there are any number of sites with similar sounding (maybe just different to the extent of an extra hypen) domains that could all lay claim to owning that “brand”. So what happens when they decide they want to start Twittering, or they want to create a brand Social Network presence?
The next thing that brought this issue to mind was more recently (today in fact), when comedian Jason Manford posted on Twitter that somebody had contacted him offering to sell him the domain name www.jasonmanford.co.uk – a domain which Manford believes (as most people would) he has more of a right to than said domain owner. When I challenged him (playfully) that perhaps the domain owner was just being entrepreneurial, he reminded me of the Wayne Rooney case from back in 2006. Whilst we might disagree on that particular issue (I personally believe that the case in question was grossly unfair to the domain owner) it was a valid point – and one which was nicely linked back to my original thoughts by the fact that Manford’s twitter username is “Jason_Manford” – presumably because the non-underscored version of his name was already taken.
So what’s my point here? Well, Manford and our client both had one thing in common – neither had been an early-enough adopter of Twitter to bag their preferred username. And with Twitter having been around for a good few years now – but (crucially) only having hit the “mainstream” recently – you can’t really fault them for this.
If you’re a celebrity, there are two things you can do. One – lump it. Unlike brand names, being a celebrity gives you no more of a claim on your name than any of the other people in the world with that name. Hence why you see people like Danny Wallace using the twitter name “misterwallace“, and David Mitchell using “RealDMitchell” – they’ve accepted it and are coping fine, thank you very much. Option Two, which is especially appealing if somebody else is pretending to be you with the username you want, is to appeal to Twitter and ask them to close the fake account and hand it over to you. You can submit a help request for this using the Twitter help site, if that’s how you’re going to do things – I’ve done one myself and it worked a tweet : )
But what if you’re a brand, and you don’t have the luxury of trademark law on your side? Well, my advice is to try to solve the issue before it happens – and there are some really useful websites you can use to help you. The best (in my opinion) is KnowEm – the “Username Checker”. All you have to do is pop your chosen brand name or slogan in to the username box, and KnowEm goes out and checks all the major social networks and web 2.0 sites to tell you which site the username is taken on. Of course, it won’t tell you which ones it’s worth registering with, or which might be “the next big thing” – but your friendly Social Media agency will be able to help you with that one…