A possible battle is looming over Twitter squatting. Cyber squatters have registered the names of companies on Twitter, and the law to prevent that practice is unclear.
“Legitimate holders of brands can sue for them, and Twitter can just turn them over if asked. But, because the investment and risk for the squatter are zero, you are going to see the rapid evaporation of available Twitter IDs,” said research analyst Richard Stiennon, as early as last year, in PC magazine. “My guess is that Twitter squatters have grabbed all of these (names) in the hopes that they will be worth selling in the not too distant future.”
Trademark owners have the right to sue cyber squatters, but the law, as it applies to disputed Twitter registrations, has not been tested in court. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone has said that companies can contact Twitter with cases of impersonation and those accounts will be reviewed.
Fake profiles of celebrities have surfaced on Twitter, so to thwart that, the microblogging service is beta testing an authentication routine with a small group. However, Twitter has no plans to verify accounts for businesses because of the costs.
Sometimes the best offense is a good defense, as companies register and protect their names and brands against speculators. The primary Twitter ID naming convention for a business is @companyname which is displayed on the Web as twitter.com/companyname.
The biggest Fortune 500 companies, those that market to consumers, have not fared especially well in protecting their brands in the Twittershphere. No. 1 Wal-Mart Stores doesn’t own the walmart Twitter ID. The mega retailer only has walmartdeals. The 1,000 followers of walmart don’t tweet about Wal-Mart but do post about good and bad hair days.
Twitter indicates that the ExxonMobil ID is owned by Jayme Sanchez, who is or was with the public affairs office of Exxon Mobil Corp., the No. 2 company. The Twitter site of Sanchez has one follower.
“Janet,” the owner of the ID ExxonMobilCorp, has several followers, though, and she sure has a lot of positive remarks about the company. The problem is that hers are not the official comments of Exxon Mobil. The company recently told the Houston Chronicle that Janet isn’t part of Exxon’s public relations machinery.
No. 3 Chevron Corp. has no alternative but to use an ID other than its name Chevron. That ID is owned by a tweeter with “protected” tweets and no followers or postings. The company uses Chevron_JustinH for its official Twitter site. Not very inspired or catchy is it?
Canadian Marketing Association blogger Bill Sweetman predicts that over the next few years, millions of dollars will be spent by companies buying, selling and fighting over Twitter IDs. Attorneys want a brawl, I’m sure.
They’d better hope that Twitter becomes a mainstream medium for a wider range of companies willing to vigorously defend their IDs. So far, tweeting has worked for early adopters Jet Blue Airways, Dell Inc., Starbucks Coffee Co. and assorted celebrities, politicians and news media.
If the early and late majorities and laggards adopt Twitter, then let’s get ready to rumble.
Contributed by Mike Wysatta, business development manager at Ryder Scott.