One of the more common questions we get asked at KnowEm from customers and prospective clients is “Why do we need to worry about all these social networks? I haven’t even heard of half of them; why do they even matter and how do they help my brand?”
Our response is simple. No one knows when the next twitter, facebook, or foursquare is going to burst onto the Social Media scene and capture massive traffic growth. I will never forget a phone call I had with one of our clients where I was going over all the new social media networks where we had reserved his brand name. He specifically asked a question about a small little site called “Pinterest” — his exact words to me were “Why should we care about this site, it seems pointless! I doubt it will take off and it feels like a waste of a signup.”
This phone conversation happened around the middle of June back in 2011. That was a little before the massive traffic explosion Pinterest experienced on its meteoric rise to become the major new contender in social media business marketing that it is today. You can see the timeline of its growth on the compete graph below:
Pinterest is a perfect example of a social media site whose traffic blew up after we were already able to make sure our current clients’ trademarks were reserved on the site. Here’s one explanation I always like to give to clients when they inquire about these brand new social startups where their brand or username has been reserved. “If I told you 6 years ago that a site consisting of 140 characters of text would be in the top 10 most visited sites internationally, used by the fortune 100 (and just about everyone else) for customer support and major marketing campaigns, would you believe me?” The answer is most commonly “No,” of course, because who could have predicted the Twitter revolution? Well, except for the occasional know-it-all social media
expert guru ninja master that is on the call and knows everything about social media and has 30k followers on twitter – but follows double that.
At KnowEm we realize not every player in the social media race is going to take off like the lucky ones, but that’s why we track so many (just about 600 right now). There is a good chance you might never use some of the accounts that you’re signed up on. But are you ready to take the risk of not reserving your trademarked brand, product or username on the next Twitter?
Here’s another not uncommon example of a similar case study: An unscrupulous competitor decided to target a well-known brand name on a new Latin social media network which was young enough to be under the radar for most people. Using black hat SEO techniques they were able to get this site ranking for a variety of competitive terms that probably made them a lot of money selling counterfeit medication:
If you notice the third result down, Lacoctelera.net (translated, “The Shaker”) is a simple community / blogging related site where someone was able to reserve and claim the name “Percocet®” before the brand holder was aware the network even existed. Doing some simple link building, the black hat was able to get it to rank for 7 or 8 different terms that we found, all of which were ranking in the top 5. (Hey Endo Pharmaceuticals, talk to us, we can help!).
The moral of the story, and the value in a service like KnowEm, is that no one can predict when the next big twitter, facebook or pinterest is going to hit. So why not be safe than sorry? It is much easier, cheaper and faster to preemptively claim a name than to bring in the legal team and try to reclaim it.
Sometimes it’s simply too late. We have new customer inquires every day from those that didn’t jump on the twitter bandwagon in time and now can’t reclaim their brand names on twitter even with legal help. If the person who owns the twitter handle of a known brand or trademark clearly states that they are not related to the company and doesn’t tweet as the company – there is nothing the trademark holder can do (short of bribing the squatter or paying them off). One of my favorite sodas, “Fanta®,” is a perfect example of this. A person claimed the registered trademark on twitter before the actual company did (Coca-Cola®) and has followed the twitter guidelines to the letter. As a result, Coca-Cola is unable to retrieve the name as long as the twitter member doesn’t attempt to represent Coca-Cola® or Fanta® in any way shape or form:
Is your brand secure? Does your brand run the risk of having someone take your name or intellectual property on a social media site? These are some serious questions you need to ask before you decide the best plan of action for you to take to insure the safety of your brand. If you have a product that runs a high risk of counterfeit, registering your brand using one of our brand protection packages might just not be enough, and that’s why we strongly suggest also using our monthly brand protection service, where our team will continue to register your name on all new and emerging social media sites that we find.
This is the reason why we built out our enterprise dashboard — A centralized location where you can view, monitor and manage all of your trademarks, brands, products and usernames on various social media networks. If you would like a webex demonstration of the product and other services that KnowEm offers feel free to contact us.
Microsoft released an announcement today that as of March 3rd, 2011, they will no longer be making editorial investigations into “complaints about trademarks used as keywords to trigger ads on Bing & Yahoo! Search in the United States and Canada.” What this basically means is they are allowing anyone to bid on a trademarked term for PPC (Pay Per Click) advertising, even if someone else owns the trademark on that term. They still, however, will investigate text within the ads (note their new “Investigations” policy).
This basically follows suit with what Google has already been doing – allowing the competitive purchasing of trademarked terms in the United States as PPC keywords, while not allowing the use of trademark terms within text ads (when deemed inappropriate). The U.S. is one of many regions where Google will not investigate keyword trademarked infringements, but ad text only (see full list here).
According to Microsoft’s new statement, they are only ceasing investigations to the U.S. and Canada on PPC trademark buying, but obviously they could expand their list of regions in the future also.
So what does Microsoft suggest you do if someone is buying your trademarked term, misrepresenting your brand, and stealing your customers? According to their new Intellectual Property Guidelines, “If there is concern that an advertiser may be using a trademark keyword inappropriately, the trademark owner should contact the advertiser directly.” So now the onus is on trademark owners to spend the time, effort, money and litigation to exert the government-granted right they paid for to protect a trademark. This is basically the same stance Google has been taking for a while now.
Of course, one can readily see why both Microsoft and Google don’t want to be the gatekeepers on PPC trademark rights – they want more advertising money. By opening the flood gates to allow illegal trademark purchasing, they can get a lot more competitors buying click terms. Pepsi can buy Coca Cola, and Ford can buy Nissan. It’s up to the trademark owners to battle it out in court.
If you’re a trademark attorney representing a major brand, you will now have to be ever more vigilant in policing the web for cases of trademark infringement. And if you’re an SMB out there trying to create a brand and protect a trademark on the search engines? It’s the wild west out there now, and anything goes unless you have the money to take every competitive PPC buyer to court.
It was recently reported that the state of Israel purchased the Twitter username @Israel from a private individual named Israel Meléndez for an undisclosed sum, which by some reports may be as much as six figures. You read that right – the Nation of Israel paid for a Twitter username from some guy that runs a porn site in Miami. He gave the prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu his password, and then they handed him a check.
Since Twitter has a policy against name squatting and selling usernames, you have to wonder what Twitter thinks of this deal. Their policy states “attempts to sell, buy, or solicit other forms of payment in exchange for usernames are also violations and may result in permanent account suspension.” Israel Meléndez says they didn’t violate this clause because he was just relinquishing his own personal account, he didn’t create the account for the purposes of making a profit. Other reports state Twitter actually helped facilitate the sale, but Twitter hasn’t confirmed that.
At KnowEm we have clients inquiring every day about what they can do to get their company’s brand, trademark or username back if it has already been taken on a social network. We always advise them to use the proper channels and contact the website owner to ask about their policy in reclaiming names, which usually requires some lawyers to get involved. The truth is, however, that it can be a very difficult and time-consuming process. And as this story shows us, you might not get the outcome you want.
If the nation of Israel had to pay a six figure sum to reclaim their name on Twitter, what chance do you have of getting your branded username back if it’s already been taken? This is the primary reason a professional service like KnowEm is so valuable for brand and trademark owners who want to be proactive in Social Media. Think of it as brand insurance – no one can steal or squat on your name on the next big social network if you have already registered it.
A recent tweet by Andrew Nystrom of Red Bull brought attention to a growing trend we’ve noticed in Social Media sites such as Twitter and Facebook — that of Typosquatting. Typosquatting is a form of brandjacking/cybersquatting in which someone registers the misspelling of a brand or trademark term in an attempt to capture traffic from a legitimate well-known entity. In the case of social networks, this is done by using the misspelling of a username, such as in Justin Bieber’s case. The real @justinbieber has 5.2 million followers, but a misspelled dupe account of @justinbeiber (the i and e transposed) with zero tweets already has over 16,000 followers.
Typosquatting on domain names is not a new practice on the internet; it was clearly identified as a threat as early as 1995 by the Federal Trademark Dilution Act and targeted directly in 1999 with the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act which “established a cause of action for registering, trafficking in, or using a domain name confusingly similar to, or dilutive of, a trademark or personal name.” Eventually ICANN also established the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP) for further protection against domain name squatting.
Like defensive domain registrations to prevent cybersquatting, trademark owners should acquire a company name, any trademarks, and any other important intellectual property brands on all social network sites.
Traverse Legal, 9/21/09
While this helps protect trademark owners from issues with misspelled domain names, there isn’t really anything in place yet which protects them on social networks. This was evidenced as early as a year go by reports concerning name misspellings being bought and sold on Twitter, and not just as usernames, but by API names as well. It seems wherever a user can supply content on a social network, there is the possibility of that content’s true owner being misrepresented.
So what can trademark owners do to protect their brands? They can wait until after their name has been squatted and issue a cease and desist to each social network and try and recover it, or they can use a service like KnowEm to proactively register their mark on popular social networks. For purposes of full disclosure I will point out that I am a co-founder of KnowEm, and I am happy to stand behind our service as the first and foremost social networking trademark protection firm on the internet.
You don’t necessarily have to rush out and use a professional service to protect misspellings of your trademark on every social network, but at the least you should consider monitoring not only the usage of your brand or mark, but several misspellings as well. Typosquatting has been around since domains existed and there’s no reason to believe it will go away anytime soon, especially with the continuing popularity and growth of social networks.
Identity Theft isn’t just something that impacts your bank account or credit card. Your brand or trademark can be hijacked in social media and on the web as well, and we’ve seen it thousands of times here at KnowEm. Most recently, according to PCWorld, a hacker named Kirllos has offered up for sale 1.5 million Facebook user accounts. Facebook hasn’t confirmed that this is a verified hack or if Kirllos’ claims are actually legitimate, but the fact that there is a market at all for claimed usernames should give you an idea what their value is worth.
The stolen Facebook identities are offered for sale at between $25 to $45 per 1,000 accounts, making them go for as little as $0.025 per username. But imagine if one of those stolen names was the name of your brand or trademark term? How valuable is it for you to control your name on the web? Now think about the intellectual property value being lost, and how much it might cost in legal fees to wrestle it back under your control.
At KnowEm we often see brandjacked names in social media being used to hawk counterfeit products or promote affiliate links to questionable landing pages which are obviously not under the company’s control. Someone will register a brand name on a popular social media site (and there are hundreds of them) and then use it for their own purposes. After all, if you were a consumer and saw a brand name you were researching had an account on Twitter, wouldn’t you just assume it was that brand, and trust any links they published? Thousands of people do every day.
Even if the Facebook hacker’s claims aren’t legitimate, social media identity theft is a real threat and should be a major concern for anyone using a unique name on the web. And after all, isn’t that everyone?
Social media identity theft is the act of creating a blog or using your name on a social media site to model your day to day operations.
Whole Foods Market is the victim of social media identity theft. CNET reports the grocery chain said it’s continuing to clamp down on a series of Facebook-based scams that entice users with a purported $500 gift card from the Austin, Texas-based supermarket chain.
The scam has been spreading virally through Facebook via fan pages with names like “Whole Foods Market Free $500 Gift Card Limited – first 12,000 fans only” and “Whole Foods FREE $500 Gift Card! Only Available for 36 hours!”
At any time someone can register domains or social media sites which misrepresent your brand. They then sell counterfeit products, or worse, products that they never ship, either of which can wreak untold damage on your brand. That’s one of the reasons a service like Knowem’s is so valuable, in that it protects you from brandjackers and namesquatters that may attempt to scoop up your name on social media networks.
Robert Siciliano, Identity Theft Expert and CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com, discusses social media scams on Fox Boston.