In this article we will talk about:
- Why cybercriminals are becoming increasingly active on social media
- How brands can practically combat malicious activity on social media?
Why cybercriminals are becoming increasingly active on social media
Many brands may be experiencing increased brand, and Intellectual Property (IP) infringements over various social networks. Here are the top reasons causing these trends:
Reason #1: eCommerce marketplaces are playing hardball
Many brands have beef with marketplaces for being so called ‘brand infringement enablers’. That is why many key industry players are taking a tougher stance on Intellectual Property property. In this context:
Alibaba– Has established the Alibaba Anti-Counterfeiting Alliance protecting north of 450 brands .
Amazon– Is combating infringements with its Brand Registry which is providing brand owners with increased control over their products on Amazon.
eBay – Created a program called Verified Rights Owner Program (VeRO). According to eBay this program “allows owners of intellectual property (IP) rights and their authorized representatives to report eBay listings that may infringe on those rights. VeRO embodies our commitment to provide a safe place to buy and sell, which respects property owners’ rights.”
This ongoing battle has had an immense impact on cybercriminals trying to peddle counterfeits on established marketplaces. There are stricter rules about using trademarks and brand names in product descriptions and listing titles, making it immensely more difficult to appear in consumer search results.
Reason #2: Using social media as a first/final touch point
Following up on the previous point, many fraudsters have found it especially effective to avoid eCommerce marketplace IP regulations in one of two ways.
One: Blatantly using brand names, logos, and trademarks on social media in order to create a preliminary engagement with a customer. Once they have a potential consumer they push them down the ‘funnel’ to their marketplace-base store where they underplay any branding violations while still using the platform in question to complete their transaction.
Two: Taking advantage of social media such as Pinterest newest features which enable app-native sales. Some customers can complete a transaction in a low friction, 1-2 click process, never even ‘setting foot’ in a 3rd party marketplace.
Reason #3: Privacy laws and resurging accounts
A combination of privacy rules such as user anonymity along with secret/closed groups, and account ‘whitewashing’ makes social media especially appealing to counterfeiters.
User anonymity– Many platforms allow users to open accounts with no proof of identity allowing people to open up fake accounts using fake identities and locations, ultimately fueling illegal activity.
Secret groups– Some platforms have secret/closed groups which can also be ‘by invitation only’ making these extremely difficult for brands to legally monitor.
Account whitewashing – This is a simple tactic of building an account/profile/page, building a following and constantly closing and reopening accounts either systemically or on a ‘as-needed’ basis.
How brands can practically combat malicious activity on social media?
Instead of succumbing to a feeling of helplessness, brands can and should be proactive as far as protecting their Intellectual Property, and consumer reputation over social media. Here are practical tactics to mitigate the negative impact of brand dilution over social media:
Tactic #1: Ongoing web data collection
In the wild west scenario corporations currently find themselves in, many companies have no choice but to monitor and police platforms independently. In this context brands can use data collection tools in order to scan all major social media networks and search engines for:
- Brand mentions
- Product mentions
- Proprietary content (articles, logos, images, graphics, music etc)
- Organic, non-owned keywords, and long tail keywords which are used very often by your customer base and may be manipulated
- Fake social profiles and pages which appear in search results
- Infringements of brand owned hashtags
- Variations of brand-owned social handles
Monitoring is the first step, now your legal team can submit requests to have harmful content and profiles banned, shut down, and even take further legal action where deemed necessary.
Pro tip: All major social media platforms have easy-to-use online ‘copyright and trademark violations’ reporting system. It is a best practice to collect the infringing data including posts, images from counterfeit accounts etc. Once you have this, you can immediately report them and in most cases, have those accounts taken down in less than 24 hours.
Tactic #2: Acquiring all relevant social handles
Most social media platforms have a handle which is your brand’s account name and how it presents itself to users – a good example of this might be @adidas. An important thing to keep in mind is that handles are free and unlimited which is why it is a best practice for companies to register themselves for as many variations of their publicly traded name as possible. For example a fashion house called Tara’s Boutique may want to acquire:
This can be an especially effective tactic for brands before they launch or even before launching a new product line. This can also be effective for existing brands who may currently have imposters but by identifying similar handles, they can essentially cross them off their list of items to worry about.
Tactic #3: Protect corporate hashtags
Hashtags ‘#’ formerly known as the ‘pound sign’ have been recycled by social media channels to help group, and display related/trending content as well as proper platform search terms. Hashtags are actually eligible for protection through the US Patent and Trademark Office. In this instance though you need to familiarize yourself with the legal minutia as a hashtag can only be trademarked if it is the source/core product or service identifier. One cannot ‘reserve’ popular, albeit general keywords for one’s exclusive benefit and use.
- Here is an example of a hashtag which cannot be trademarked: ‘#RunningShoes’
- Here is an example of a trademark which can be trademarked: ‘#RunForAfrica’
The core difference is that the former is a general product description which can be used by any sports shoes retailer. Whereas the latter is part of a larger marketing campaign which includes this slogan and is unique to a company-specific campaign.
Be sure to run a ‘clearance search’ to ensure that this hashtag is indeed free for use. This is a very good preemptive tactic to ensure that any of a number of campaigns which you have invested considerable sums in promoting remain within your domain of control.
Summing it up
Protecting your digital assets is becoming a growing necessity as more and more activity migrates online. Social media is an especially challenging place for corporations to maintain clear Intellectual Property boundaries. But companies must remember that with a clear, and consistent social IP strategy they can protect their profit margins and brand reputation. Here are 3 indicators to keep an eye on when trying to determine if your strategy is successful:
#1: Uptick in sales – Many brands’ sales suffer due to knockoffs and counterfeits. When a large majority of these unwanted ‘competitors’ are removed from the equation, companies may see a resurgence in sales from ‘rogue’ customers.
#2: Increased search result visibility – In certain cases, an imposters social media account or page may rank higher than the original brand’s social accounts, diverting crucial traffic. When such accounts are identified and removed the ‘real’ brand’s social pages may enjoy higher search engine rankings, and Click-Through Rates (CTRs).
#3: Increased social engagement – By this same token, when imposter accounts and pages are removed your brands’ pages, accounts, and advertising campaigns should enjoy a higher level of engagement, clicks, and conversions.