Most of us are enjoying the digital fruits of our social media efforts while building our business and brands.
So what happens when one day you find someone else using your logo, which you have taken the time to file a copyright or trademark for, as his or her primary profile photo on Twitter, Facebook or another social network? You've built up a considerable amount of goodwill based upon your brand identity. Now what?
As this has happened to me twice that I already am aware of, I thought it was time to add it to the Rules of Netiquette. Quite simply put, it's a netiquette no-no, and while it might be innocent at times, in my particular case, it was not. Imitation isn't a form of flattery.
Let's take a digital flashback to the first incident.
One day last year, after a tiring flight, I arrived in my hotel room and launched TweetDeck, the software tool I use for social media management. As I've loaded in keywords in a search that are relevant to the topics that I write about -- dating, love, social media, netiquette and relationships -- I looked to see which interesting articles I could share with my loyal followers. I consider myself to be a social-media-friendly person and happily retweet status updates that I believe my friends and followers would enjoy.
In my Twitter stream, I noticed my logo for my company, which also appears on my book cover and is recognized with my name and brand. At first glance, I thought someone retweeted an article of mine, but upon a closer look, I noticed that someone created a new profile on Twitter, had taken the time to go to my website and take a screen shot of my logo, and set up a new account using the software platform of twitterfeed, which, when used in good faith, allows you schedule automated tweets based on your selected categories of interest. This new account with my digital face wasn't mine.
My first reaction was one of digital anger. How could this happen? It couldn't have been done in error, as it was a logo I had hired someone to design. I watched as this account started gaining followers and went to the website link on their Twitter profile, which used a link shortener to disguise the domain name. I clicked on the link to find out whom the digital culprit was and I was taken to an affiliate sales page for an information product that I hadn't written about, didn't endorse and was not an affiliate of. As this account had not been following me, I was unable to send a private message. I sent a short update on their public Twitter stream kindly asking them to remove my logo from their profile page. Naturally, the computer didn't respond to me. It doesn't read Twitter streams.
My second reaction was to send an email to the affiliate marketer to advise them of this impersonation and to let them know that it violated Twitter's terms of service. I received a response claiming that he didn't know who the affiliate on the profile was and could not contact them to ask them to replace their profile photo with one other than mine. I knew that wasn't the case, as every affiliate has an ID number associated with their link. He just didn't want to shut down a digital cash machine.
Finally, I contacted Twitter, which doesn't take these matters lightly. I filed an impersonation claim, as the account was set up to cause confusion in the marketplace for financial gain. I sent them screen shots and supporting documentation and sat and waited. Every day and every hour I watched this new account, with my company and personal Twitter logo, gaining speed, and I wondered whether my followers were buying in.
At the end of five days of digital distress, Twitter finally pulled down the profile of the impersonator, stating that the account was suspended for suspicious activity. I was both relieved and of course concerned about what steps I could take to protect my digital reputation. Was it a digital victory? Not just yet.
Moving forward to the second incident.
Fast forward to last week, when I noticed that a friend and follower on Twitter had mentioned me in his status update. He advised me and a new Twitter user that we were sharing the same avatar and thought it was interesting.
Interesting? I looked down, and he was right. There was my logo on someone else's profile. I felt robbed again. I was grateful that my followers and the social media community kept instant tabs on each other and was happy this was brought to my attention. Within a minute, the new Twitter impersonator replied with her second tweet, "Great minds think alike? Guess I'll have to go on a hunt for a new face." I took a screen shot of the other user using my profile and was grateful that it was caught on the first tweet.
What lessons have we learned?
The takeaway is that it's imperative that you protect your digital reputation and brand identity on the Internet. In both cases above, the impersonators were found on the first day, before they had built any digital traction. I posted an update on Facebook about the recent incident and received over 20 comments from my friends, ranging from those expressing anger to those sharing similar stories.
Without further digital ado, here are several ways you can protect your brand identity online.
- Create a Google alert. Visit google.com/alerts and sign up to receive alerts with your company name, personal name and keywords related to your brand.
- Set up keywords on software management tools. Whether it's TweetDeck, HootSuite or your favorite social media management tool, make sure your keywords and your name, both with the space in it as well as your Twitter handle appear in your search. You'll know who's talking about your and your brand and will notice any oddities.
- Register a Copyright of your logo. Visit copyright.gov for the U.S. copyright office.
- File a trademark application of your logo. Visit uspto.gov for details and consult an attorney to determine what categories your logo should be registered in.
- Don't respond aggressively. While you may be mad, remember that you're creating a permanent digital footprint with each Tweet and status update, so take any of these matters offline and avoid a flame war. Saying a simple "thank you" when the person returns your identity is more than enough.
At the end of the digital day, everyone needs to become his or her own social media police and take notice if someone attempts to use the identity of your friends and followers. They'll return the favor if necessary.