This alone should provoke you to snap up your social media accounts – today!

This alone should provoke you to snap up your social media accounts - today!

Even if your company is not ready to ‘go social’ from a purely reputational perspective, you need to secure your social media assets.

What would you do if an online crisis broke out and you had to defend your reputation, only to discover someone else owned these assets, possibly the hijacker?

You can prevent it.

At the very least, you need to be able to defend yourself against parody or spoof.

Does it happen? There are countless examples I can draw on, some hilarious, others malicious.

On the lighter side

On the lighter side, good parody accounts brings colour to online life. They are the equivalent of the funny extrovert at the office who can lift the mood of everyone around them.

Spoof accounts gain loyal followings and are highly valued, so much so that platforms have developed guidelines for how to manage them. The Alan Garner parody account (from the film The Hangover) provides constant funny commentary.

Alan Garner

But you have to guard against parody that makes you look out of touch or can damage your reputation.

Parody may not be nasty but it can be inconvenient.

For example, in Victoria in 2013 when the then Premier Ted Baillieu unexpectedly resigned, his successor @DenisNapthineMP announced on Twitter “at least I’m not burdened by high expectations.”

The announcement was made by the “not currently the Member for South West Coast in the Victorian Parliament and Premier of Victoria” fake account. This account was set up within the Twitter guidelines that state that spoof accounts ‘should not be the exact name of the account subject without some other distinguishing word, such as “not,” “fake,” or “fan”‘.

But it was the last thing a party knee-deep in crisis needed. A political party is a brand. Securing the names and titles of party representatives like business trademarks prevents it.

There are also unintended consequences that flow from these accounts. For example, in the case above, legitimate news outlets tried to communicate with the new Premier through the account and were pointed in the right direction by another Twitter user.


Ironically, spoofs backfire when traditional media publishers mistake them for legitimate sources because the message is amplified and the mistake creates a new story. Even established, well-regarded media outlets have been known to get it wrong.

Both CNN and the Huffington Post reported stories based on tweets from a fake North Carolina Governor.


Source checking is becoming something of a fine art in the social world and one of many reasons I don’t believe citizen journalism will replace professional journalism.

There are different views on how to deal with impersonation, ranging from:

1. Let it be, to
2. Hunt them down.

Some people are happy to let parody accounts run alongside their own and consider them a compliment. But you may have different obligations as a business, including legal ones. In some countries you have to actively protect a trademark from being misused.

Social media platforms already have processes in place to deal with violations and as more businesses come online they are certain to become more sophisticated.

On Twitter brand mark and trademark complains; breach of privacy; copyright complaints; impersonation and name squatting are all violations of its terms and can be reported.  Twitter also allows you to verify that you are who you say you are if your account is at risk of being parodied (in other words you’re pretty important).

Facebook allows users to verify accounts but a verified account distinguishes itself from a fake account, so it means you need an account to compare it with in the first place.

If there is a violation then be aware that Twitter and Instagram only accept violation reports from people who are signed up. This is just one more reason to get on board now. Imagine having to go through a sign up process just to make a report while you were trying to manage the chaos of a crisis.

Personally I think businesses would feel more comfortable moving to social if platforms offered verification (even as a paid service) as it would better enable them to assess and manage risk.

In China, for example, the process for establishing an online presence is arduous but means that once established, an online presence is highly trusted.

But this is a fast-evolving space, both users and platforms are constantly adapting as we learn more about how people behave online. Legal channels already exist for managing practically any online issue but prevention is easier and cheaper.

Many companies are already being parodied, without even being aware of it. A good first step is to get a handle on your social media presence. You can use a tool like Brandle to do social media discovery and create an inventory of who in your business is using social legitimately and who may be misusing your brand or trademark.

As a priority you should also claim your social real estate for:

1. Your personal Facebook account
2. Your business Facebook page
3. Twitter handles for your organisation and its product lines (Deloitte does this well)
4. Your business name, account, or page on LinkedIn, SlideShare, Google+, YouTube, and Instagram.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a start

Snapping up assets takes time as some platforms only allow one account per email address. Your IT people may have a solution like using Gmail aliases (check the terms and conditions of the platform too) and I am hoping that in the future platforms will recognise and adapt their offering to take these needs into accounts.  In the meantime, it is time well spent.

And if you need someone else’s authority to allocate the resources, then you might like to send this to them.

The Board and executive are responsible for ensuring the organisation manages risk and had the right kinds of governance in place to mitigate it.


The Social Executive – how to master social media and why it’s good for business will be published globally by Wiley in July 2014 – click here get notified once it’s out.

More reading:

The role of social media in crisis communications
3 reasons why you can’t avoid social media (even if you wanted to)
6 damaging myths about social media and the truth behind them


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