Beware of brandjacking

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Corporate marketers have long been tasked with protecting a company's brand, but new developments in the online landscape are vastly complicating that job. Two in particular merit your attention. The first is a closely watched lawsuit involving review site PhoneDog and a former employee named Noah Kravitz. You can search for details, but the dispute boils down to who owns a Twitter following built by an employee while speaking on behalf of a company once that employee leaves. This case is all about money, but the implications are more far-reaching. Businesses are increasingly looking for ways to leverage the social capital of constitu-ents to build word-of-mouth credibility. But these plans can backfire. In a worst-case scenario, a disaffected former employee could use a following built on behalf of an employer to spread malice or promote a competitor. Any company that wishes to trade on the credibility of its consti-tuents needs an airtight social media policy ( is a good place to start) as well as guarantees that it can gain access to accounts when necessary. PhoneDog v. Kravitz could be an important precedent-setter. The second case is an impending move by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) to expand the number of top-level domains (TLDs) on the Internet, perhaps by as many as 1,000. Many marketers know immediately what this portends: a long and expensive process of registering domains with extensions like .XXX (yes, that's already in service) to keep their brands out of the hands of critics and domain squatters—if it isn't already too late. Online brand management is a swelling headache. In addition to securing such TLDs as .ME and .MOBI, alert marketers must also register variations commonly used by detractors, such as Each of the hundreds of new TLDs that are about to come into service merit attention. There is little companies can do to derail ICANN's plans, since the group doesn't abide by any nation's laws. You can make your voice heard, however. The Association of National Advertisers is spearheading a petition drive and has information on its website. The ICANN challenge comes on top of the growing problem of “brandjacking” by detractors on services like Facebook and Twitter. For shock-and-awe value, search Facebook for “Walmart sucks” and see what marketers there are up against. BP is still feeling the pain of the viciously satirical Twitter account called @BPGlobalPR. The brandjacking appeals processes on Facebook or Twitter can stretch on for months, and there's no guarantee of success. The best defense for now is to create a crisis-management program and cultivate your best customers to defend you should the need arise. Then hope for the best.┬áM
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