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Is this Captain BRAND, saviour of the universe? Via flickr by Gaetan LeeBrand managers are paid handsome salaries largely to optimise and protect their brands. This means raising the key brand metrics (reach, awareness, favourability, etc) and avoiding brand damage.

In today's multichannel environment I argue that brands need to be monitored, represented and protected online. I wrote an article last week that generated some interesting discussion around whether or not companies should be climbing onboard the Twitter train. Some argue that there's no point ('it isn't big enough' / 'how would you use it?') and others think that it is ripe for engagement. 

My own argument can be boiled down to this: even if you don't actively use these sites today, you might as well make sure that you're in a position to use them tomorrow.

This means owning the brand names...

Influence counts

Brand and marketing folk tend to follow crowds, but they also understand the power of influence. If you want a product to be perceived as cool, then you need to know who the cool cats are. Influence and the network effect can pay serious dividends.

I’ve seen this in action. One company had a few samples to giveaway, and a young male demographic in mind. They took the product to London’s South Bank, a haven for skateboarders, and asked the kids to point out the best skaters. She then handed over the free schwag to the dudes with the best tricks, who all the other skaters looked up to. Smart stuff…

The T Word 

In the internet industry we know that Twitter is all about influence, largely because it has achieved a high level of penetration among internet professionals. Relatively speaking, we are early adopters, and there’s a lot of activity on there.

Right now Twitter won’t work for all brands, but that’s not to say that all brands shouldn't be taking part. A contradiction? Nope. What I mean by this is simple: you don’t have to devote large resources to social media sites, but you do have to protect your trademarks

This should be hardwired into your marketing strategy, since there are serious brand and SEO considerations. On top of that, Twitter will become influential in other sectors too. It is an echo chamber, and it is just a matter of time.

Last week I wondered why Coca Cola, the world’s number one brand, ignores Twitter. A common argument against my question is another question:why should they?. And it’s a fair point, since not all brands are going to find a use for Twitter, though in my view Coca Cola isn’t one of them. It could be using it as a feedback channel, for competitions, for exclusive content, or even for ad creative.

I do think that all brands should at the very least own their own trademarks. Yet the Twitter accounts for Coke and Diet Coke have already been claimed by others. It seems bizarre, given that these accounts can be set up for free (perhaps Twitter can make money by introducing a variant of the domain name resolution system?).

Another argument is that ‘it’s just bandwagon jumping’, and I agree that there’s too much slack thought going on in some social media strategies. But even if Twitter doesn’t become a massively popular website, there’s enough reason to register a brand like ‘Coke’, isn’t there? 

All I see is upside

For starters, if you do this then nobody else will bag your brand name, so there won’t be any brand abuse on such a guessable location. This is important, unless you have a thing for headaches. All I did on Twitter to see if Coke had an account was visit www.twitter.com/coke. If everybody else does that then there’s going to be a potential problem for Coke’s brand managers, if the owner of that account doesn’t happen to like Coke. 

Secondly, there’s always the chance that the social media site ‘does a Facebook’ and becomes huge. In that case the above problem would be exacerbated, or alternatively, if you owned your brand names, you would start receiving plenty of attention.

Thirdly, and something seriously worth factoring in, is that social media sites can rank very highly in the search engines. If you believe in universal search then you’ll know how news stories, images and video can play a part in claiming more page estate on the first page of Google. Well, you should also factor in profiles on social media sites. 

I call this ‘social search optimization’ ('SSO', anyone?). An example: for the search term ‘Diet Coke’ there are links to four social media sites on the first page (Wikipedia, YouTube, Google Video and VideoJug). It proves that these sites can play a big part in capturing attention, and if you own or have influence over these pages then you should sleep more soundly at night. Twitter also ranks very highly for many brands with Twitter accounts. 

Place your bets

If you don’t buy a ticket you won’t win the lottery, right? In this case the only cost is the time it takes to sign up for an account, which is something an intern can do and as such costs next to nothing.

Here’s what I’d do:

  1. Set up some feeds to sites like Techcrunch, Mashable, even Econsultancy. Monitor new and upcoming social media sites. 
  2. Sign up! If you can sign up for an account for free, then why not sign up? Claim your social media profiles for all your key brands. Sign up for all sites. You don't need a doctorate, 25 years experience and a six-figure salary to do this. 
  3. Sit tight. See which ones take off (not all will, but what do you have to lose by taking a punt?). Wade in and engage if appropriate.
  4. Monitor the search results on Google and see which sites rank the highest. Consider social search optimisation - can you further boost these sites in the rankings? 
  5. Make sure you have a strategy in place, and some guidelines. Coca Cola, to its credit, has a social media policy, and is figuring things out. Guidelines should be distributed to all PR, comms and marketing staff (or anybody that might use some initiative in this area). For bigger companies putting a structure in place will obviously be more challenging than for smaller ones. In this instance I recommend four gallons of gumption, three quarts of fortitude, plus a sprinkling of evangelism.

This isn’t rocket science, and it’s not about seeking board level approval to divert millions of marketing budget into fledgling social media sites.

Simply put, I think this is best practice, since it prevents brand damage on a prime domain (aka a guessable user / brand account). It will also ensure that companies are well-placed to make the most of these sites should they ‘do a Facebook’, or show promising results on Google.

Chris Lake

Published 16 February, 2009 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

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Simon Harrow

What a great article! I couldn't agree more and I love the term SSO. This is just like before with domain names - get the right social media account and you are in a position of power. Miss it or lose it and it will cost you.

almost 8 years ago

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Scott Hoffman

Great Post, Great Advice...I put together a list of the top 30 social networking and/or community sites/platforms that businesses should defend their brands on.

Here is the link to the list, enjoy!

almost 8 years ago

Justin Gould

Justin Gould, Online Marketeer / Search Specialist at Client Side

I like the article Chris. Thanks. I also agree that it's really quite unusual of Twitter not to charge for/regulate the set-up of accounts for trademarks and brand names. They're likely to become valuable and could become a liability for Twitter when big corps come to claiming them. e.g. the coke example.

What do you think a brand owner should do if they find their name has squatters? In the case of my employer, it's taken but judging by the content it's someone on (our physical office) site, so we would probably find it easy to prise it from them once they work out who it is.

almost 8 years ago

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Adi

I've had a squatter problem with a client, the account wasn't being used for anything.  Tried contacting both account holder and Twitter explaining the situation but didn't get a reply from either.  It really is about time Twitter took an official stance on this as I can only forsee circumstances like this becoming more frequent as Twitter becomes more mainstream.

almost 8 years ago

Richard Spalding

Richard Spalding, Senior User Experience Professional at Canon Europe Ltd.Enterprise

Overall I totally agree with your well reasoned article, there are many upsides. I can identify one downside though - not being active.

Say Brand X signs up to all the Social Networking tools it can think of, initially as a placeholding task to acquire the 'Brand_X' address. Then users notice the Brand X they know and love and begin interacting. But because Brand X has limited internal resource it cannot interact back to keep pace with the incoming tweets, comments, messages, demands for info. Brand X then publicly looks like its ignoring everyone.

The simple solution would be for Brand X to be quite clear that it will not respond, but again this could look unfriendly.

almost 8 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Thanks for the comments.

@scott - nice list. How did you decide upon the tiers? As I mentioned, Videojug is one of the top 10 results on Google for 'Diet Coke', either by luck or judgement. That might be a naturally good site for SSO, or it could just be a page with 10,000 inbound links... 

@Adi - what a fantastic tool. Very useful, although it seems slightly out of date. It's useful just to have a list of these sites. I'm wondering whether ALL sites are relevant... you know, should 'Coke' have an account on Corkd, or Colorlovers? I guess it comes back to the brand abuse thing, and also the SSO thing.

@Justin - I guess Twitter will have to sort this out and deal with the problem, but it is fraught with issues. Somebody called Rachel owns '@Shell' and she might wonder why she *has* to give up their username, and with good reason. If I that was me and I had 2,000 followers and had been using Twitter for 20 months then I'd want some compensation. In Rachel's case she's not used it too much but still, this is an obvious headache for all concerned. 

@Richard - agreed about that as a downside, but I reckon it is outweighed by brand protection and if the messaging is ok then people should be cool with it. 

almost 8 years ago

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Omar

I don't disagree with the premise of your post entirely. However, clearly many brands are already doing exactly as you've suggested. To use your example, it is fairly ambiguous as to whether the current owner of the 'coke' username on Twitter is affiliated to the brand or not. If one visits http://www.twitter.com/coke, the only 'tweet' posted by this user is "drinking coke"; to me, that is a fairly effective and brand-positive message. I'm not saying definitively that this *is* the brand occupying space on Twitter, however it could be, in a more renegade fashion than, let's say, its direct competitor. Visiting http://www.twitter.com/pepsi, one can see your grand vision in complete effect: a branded Twitter page with no tweets, yet despite this, an overtly engineered and 'squatting' presence on this particular social media site.

On the subject of 'squatting', I believe there needs to be more [legal?] discussion on the subject of trademark infringement on these private sector social media sites. Perhaps there already has but it certainly hasn't entered mainstream dialogue. There is much debate to be had (and clearly your blog is adding to it!) on whether there should be any governance in this area, and I for one to do not believe there should be. There is a fundamental difference between a domain name and a username for a private sector site (essentially, that's what we're talking about in Twitter's case). The former is at its highest level governed by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), an NPO which seeks to act in the best interests of society. The latter is motivated by 'merely' profit. I'd suggest the higher purpose of ICANN allows it to be supplemented by such laws as the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act in the US. If a law was to treat Twitter in the same way as ICANN, it would be combining the nobility of law with the 'dirtiness' of profit. Yes, there are laws that already do protect the pursuit of profit - but not to the detriment of democratic values, in a democracy. It's important to consider also that Twitter would likely feel it is *restricted* by this law, whereas ICANN only feels *protected*.

There are many points to be said on both sides, not least of which is the conflict between governance and the free market. To what extent would such law extend? Hypothetically, would a nascent social media site be restricted in the same way as Twitter, despite no one actually knowing about it? Would all sites accepting user registrations be ultimately affected if such laws began intruding upon the nested layers of the interweb (i.e. not just the top-level domain names, etc.)? How difficult would this actually be to police? I guess this is why lawyers also get paid ‘handsome salaries’... :)

In conclusion, I considered one of the interesting things about your post was the underlying assumption that the market is free and BMs best get there act together as they will be given no quarter if they miss the boat now. To answer your rhetorical question though, perhaps with precedence existing re: domain names, managers subconsciously believe they actually *will* be allowed a second chance (facilitated by law), thus empowering them to ensure presently they don't attach their brand to just *any* social media site, but rather wait until the sites themselves have been validated to the extent where the connexion would be obviously favourable.

Fair enough too - there's enough evidence around us to have anyone believe getting “bailed out” is the way things will play out... ;)

almost 8 years ago

Justin Gould

Justin Gould, Online Marketeer / Search Specialist at Client Side

I've been thinking about this a little more. Of course, a lot of the single word usernames will get snapped up whilst a site is in its infancy and these will  overlap with trademarks and brands. If the site subsequently becomes popular and the brand takes notice, they should probably engage rather than bully. There may be more to gain by playing nice.

Plus, there are plenty of companies that don't own their most obvious .com and yet manage to run profitable online presences. If their marketing is up to scratch, the numbers of folks resorting to trying combinations of domain names or social media URLs will be tiny compared with the traffic driven by other means. Should it really matter if the 'most obvious' username is taken?

almost 8 years ago

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