Keeping Your Brand Safe in the Age of Social Media

by: on 30 October 2015

With the future set to become almost fully digital, Simon Whitehouse, Senior Director, EMEA at MarkMonitor provides top tips on how firms and individuals can protect themselves and their interests from any loopholes that may exist.

"By its very nature, social media is a tool which can make your work go viral, instantaneous and widespread within seconds."

Social media has revolutionised the way marketing departments, sales teams and brand advocates approach and undertake their daily jobs. The various social media platforms enable marketers to engage with and understand their audiences better, whilst tracking  new and emerging trends to gather real feedback and adjust their offerings accordingly.

However, all the features of social media that bring advantages to organisations also have their downsides. By its very nature, social media is a tool which can make your work go viral, instantaneous and widespread within seconds. This can present problems for organisations, especially around sensitive issues as brand protection, which in itself includes issues like brand impersonation, account spoofing, and counterfeit goods. This is reinforced by research conducted by Grant Thornton in which it was found that 59 percent of companies do not perform a risk assessment when it comes to their social media strategy.

Incorporating some form of brand protection within the overall digital marketing strategy is critical, not only in allowing an organisation to gain an advantage from the benefits of social media, but also to avoid damaging hard-earned customer and brand trust, and the ability to engage with customers one-on-one. The danger is that as a medium which is characterised by a brand’s way of presenting consumers with its human side, many customers may take brands’ social media accounts at face value.

Before addressing the important issue of what can be done from a brand protection point of view, it is important to understand just what risks are faced by a brand.

Social media – what is the risk to a brand?

One of the biggest risks a brand on digital media faces is impersonation and those revolved around IP. The nature of the internet is such that impersonators can easily use items such as copyrighted images, photos or trademarked brand names or slogans to communicate with a brand’s audience in the guise of being the brand itself. The motivation for impersonation varies, from financial gain, to merely wishing to discredit or damage the brand. Regardless of the reason, this can negatively affect consumer perception and trust.

When motivated by economic reasons, scammers and impersonators can use social media to mislead consumers in terms of fraud or counterfeiting. This wrongful behaviour can be accomplished by setting up fake pages or profiles with the unauthorised use of copyrighted materials and/or trademarks in order to appear legitimate.

So, the key question here is, how does a brand ensure they do not fall victim to scammers, counterfeiters or impersonators in the social media space?

Top brand protection tips

Keeping a brand safe and healthy in the social media sphere is an ongoing endeavour that requires a solid strategy to combat instances of brand misuse or misappropriation. There are a number of best practice approaches that can be incorporated into a brand’s overall brand protection strategy to help preserve customer trust. Here are some of them:

Top tip #1: Dot the I’s and cross the T’s

A brand should be officially registered across a host of social media websites, from blogs, and microblogs, to various networks. An organisation needs to make sure that they have taken the appropriate steps to make it official by proactively registering their brands as a reliable and known username across leading and new social media sites.

Certain social media sites have a verification process whereby brands or organisations can prove their legitimacy. For those sites that do not offer this option, organisations can ensure that their official website includes icons, information and links that explain and lead to their social media sites.

In addition, while a company may already have registered and / or recovered all of a brand’s vanity URLs, an organisation should also pay attention to emerging, special interest or lesser-known social media sites. With the growth of social media and the establishment of new sites, this should form an ongoing part of brand protection strategy.

Top Tip #2: Be vigilant

Social media networks, and indeed the scammers who make use of them, evolve constantly. Sadly, it can be fairly easy for scammers and fraudsters to impersonate a well-known brand online, which means that these networks need to be monitored on an on-going basis to prevent a brand’s misuse and stop scammers from engaging with customers. There are tools available in the market that can assist in automatically searching social media for unauthorised use of your brands and trademarks.

Top Tip #3 Take action

Once any misuse or abuse of a brand is identified, appropriate action must be taken. This can vary, depending on the circumstances, and can include a number of approaches. Organisations can contact the scammer or impersonator directly to understand their motives and explain how this activity is in violation of their brand guidelines. Alternatively, brands may need to catalogue the activity and report the impersonator or scammer to the relevant social media site so that it can enforce its terms of service.