Many companies vulnerable to 'brand hijacking'

By Heather Havenstein
August 05, 2008 11:11 AM EDT

While Exxon Mobil may have been one of the first companies to have had its brand hijacked on the increasingly popular micro blogging site Twitter, it may not be the last, according to a recent survey that shows how few companies have claimed their company or brand name on Twitter.

Cow, a brand communications agency in Britain, found in a survey Aug. 3 that almost seven out of 10 of the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 (FTSE) companies have left their company name or brand ID unclaimed on Twitter. The FTSE represents the 100 most highly capitalized companies trading on the London Stock Exchange. Dirk Singer, director of Cow, estimated that the results of the survey could be translated to public companies in the United States and elsewhere.

Singer noted in a blog post that 69 Twitter names that related to the FTSE are unregistered. Another 17 have been claimed but are inactive.

Out of the remaining 10 names (excluding the four that are active on Twitter), a few have been registered by other organizations, Singer added. "Sky TV” has been claimed by an Italian television Web site. Sky’s parent company BskyB has had its name taken by someone who has never posted anything but claims to be writing a novel. Supermarket company Sainsburys has had its name taken by someone who calls him or herself Sainsburys, but lists his/her location as “in ur fridge.”


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“Meanwhile, a list of Twitter brand names have been registered and are for sale on a Web site for £20 ($40), meaning they can be easily picked up by someone wanting to either have a laugh at the brand’s expense or to be mischievous,” Singer noted. “These include Dominos Pizza, Dulux Paint, Eastenders, Alton Towers, Littlewoods and Ford Motor.

He went on to note that whether a company decides to actively use their company or brand name on Twitter or not, the growth of social media means people will be talking about it online.

“Worse, as Exxon’s example shows, by staying away from services such as Twitter, you leave yourself open to people ‘reserving’ your brand name before you can, or even deciding to impersonate you online,” he noted. “Taking your Twitter feed takes literally minutes and it’s free. It’s also critical to protect your brand reputation. Any brand that hasn’t already done so really needs to do so now."

At the most basic level, companies need to make sure that they are monitoring Twitter and other popular social media sites like YouTube, Flickr and FriendFeed, which pulls together all different social media updates on one page, he suggested.

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