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It’s not unusual to come across a Facebook page or Twitter account in a brand’s name, that isn’t actually controlled by that brand at all.  These ‘unofficial’ pages/accounts are created by fans, unapproved staff members or even those just looking to be capitalistic.  Then there are the pages/accounts that aren’t masquerading as the brand, but using their logo or IP inappropriately and without consent – often in a way that is negative towards the company.  They can be damaging and downright confusing to customers. So what can you do if this has happened to your brand?

This question seems to be one that is often ignored by many businesses, who opt instead to turn a blind eye to these fake social presences and try instead to create their own in hope that people will magicly know which page or account is the correct one.

This strategy may work to some extent, but there are still a number of dangers or downfalls, including:

  • On Twitter, people often won’t go to the trouble to search for your brand, but will assume you have the Twitter handle that is the most obvious.  However name squatting is a common problem for big brands. This is particularly true if your brand is well known and/or unique. For example, it’s common for people to tweet to Qantas using @qantas despite the fact that the real twitter handle is actually @QantasAirways. This means that you can potentially miss some of the conversations directed towards you.
  • Even if your official page/account attracts the majority of fans/followers, it’s likely the other pages/accounts have still picked up a few – whether it’s 10, 100 or 10,000, these are all customers who you are probably missing out on engaging with.  If just one of those people would have bought from you the next time you posted about a sale, or could have been turned into a great advocate for your brand, you’ve missed out on a great opportunity.
  • It’s confusing having multiple profiles, people don’t necessarily know which is the real page/account and they don’t necessarily want to spend the time to find out.
  • Fake profiles can provide the wrong information, project the wrong brand values and generally threaten the reputation of your company (at the very least within the digital space).

At the end of the day, you wouldn’t give someone else your customer database to send emails or otherwise communicate with on behalf of your brand, with no instruction or control. By the same token you should not allow someone to control a different channel that carries your branding.

You would be surprised how often I see it happen, particularly with big brands.  Milo is a good example. Run a search for ‘Milo’ on Facebook and you are confronted by a number of pages with substantial communities. Which one is the official page? I have no idea. Milo Australia is official, and there is another Milo page that seems to be official from South America… but other than that I don’t know if any of the others are controlled by Nestle itself. I assume they are not because there is very little information provided and they aren’t posting anything. One of these pages has over 364,000 fans. Another is close to 40,000 – these are not numbers that I would be ignoring.

Another common problem is the use of your branding for an obviously unofficial Facebook page that uses your logo. For example people tend to love to create pages like ‘<insert brand> sucks’ and use that company’s logo as their profile picture.  One example I recently found was Vitamin Water Sucks: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Vitamin-Water-Sucks/60271299695

The good news is that most of the time you can do something to fix it.

When can you do something about it?

Facebook:

Facebook are pretty good about this, however admittedly I’ve been working for two fairly large companies when I’ve approached them about it in the past.  The more cynical of people may suggest that would be why it has been relatively easy to exact results, but on the plus side most smaller companies probably wouldn’t see a high incidence of rogue pages or accounts.

The best thing about Facebook is that they not only get rid of unofficial pages that are using your brand name and logo, but they will actually migrate all their followers to your page.  So Milo could effectively end up with over 400,000 extra fans, immediately (or close to), at no cost.

If the page is infringing your copyright in some way, you can’t take over the fans, however they will have the material in question taken down (including if it is the profile pic).

Twitter:

Twitter follow fairly similar rules to Facebook, though they are usually a little tougher.  Basically if an account is using your brand name and logo and acting as if they are affiliated with your company, Twitter can shut down the account and hand the Twitter handle over to you.  However if the account is not using your logo and have identified that they are not affiliated with your brand, there is not much you can do.  Apparently there is also some rule whereby if the account is using your brand name and has not been active for six months or more you can also lay claim to it, however I have not found this to be the case.  At least I was told the ‘active’ was a very loose term that may mean they have logged into their account but not actually done anything.  This is why for example Qantas was not able to take control of @qantas, despite the fact the person is obviously not using the account and has registered it purely to try and make a buck by selling it back to the company.

How can you do something about it?

Facebook:

For pages that are acting as if they are affiliated with your brand (ie. Using your brand name and logo): You need to fill out a form here https://www.facebook.com/help/contact.php?show_form=page_migrations_external and let Facebook know.  Typically they will need to verify that you in fact work for the company, for which an email address will usually suffice.  Within a week or so the pages should be migrated so that you then have control over those fans. I once did this for about 13 pages (though you can only do about six at a time) – even though each had only a few hundred fans, it did result in a gross increase of a few thousands fans, and better still prevented those people from being exposed to the wrong messaging. It also reduced confusion for our customers who were probably unsure of which page to like.

For pages that are infringing your copyright: Similarly in this instance you need to report it to Facebook by filling in this form: http://www.facebook.com/legal/copyright.php?howto_report and Facebook (if they agree with you) will contact the admins of these pages/groups and get them to remove the infringing content. Be aware that the page admins will most likely be given your name and contact details.

Twitter impersonationTwitter:

The best place to get information about what you can do and how is here: http://support.twitter.com/groups/33-report-a-violation If you are looking to report a trademark violation (someone is impersonating your brand), you can ‘submit a ticket request’ here: http://support.twitter.com/forms/trademark

If someone is out there confusing your customers and using your brand name then the worst thing you can do is nothing.  Even if you aren’t sure whether Facebook or Twitter can help you get your brand back (or whether the accounts in question are even violating their T+Cs), it’s worth the few minutes to fill out their forms to see what they come back with. Get out there and save your brand!

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