Social media imposters target listed companies

Social media imposters are a new kind of crisis issue and one that boards and management should be aware of, because it’s happening to ASX listed companies whether they are on social media or not.

Let me give you an example. I recently noted the occurrence of a social media imposters profile on Twitter remarkably similar to an existing ASX listed company profile. The imposter Twitter handle (Twitter address) was almost identical to the real one, other than a subtle underscore in the handle and an additional character. Every element of the imposter Twitter profile was the same as the real company profile: logo, header image, bio and a link to the real company’s website. The imposter account was even reposting some of the ASX announcements put out by the real account followed by a host of irrelevant celebrity and sporting gossip. Blatant trademark infringement.

Knowing how diligent the CEO of the real company is about company announcements and the organisation’s brand, and knowing that celebrity gossip would never be allowed out on that company’s Twitter handle under any circumstances, it was obvious it was an imposter – to me.

But others were not as observant and when I investigated the list of followers of the imposter profile, some very important people had been sucked in, most of them recognisable peers in the industry sector – a business journalist, a relevant government department and a high profile investor were amongst the 98 followers who had signed up.

Another large ASX listed company who is not on social media, though monitoring the digital airwaves, detected a social media imposters profile on Facebook using the company name, logo and using images taken off the company website from a number of years ago. Though there were no posts to the profile, it posed a problem as more than 3,500 people were following a dud account.

There has been a number of well known cases of social media imposters – Exxon Mobil Corp and American Airlines come to mind as companies that have had take a stand to protect their brand. Impersonation or imposter accounts are against most social media platform rules and companies can report them and request to have them removed. I worked with the ASX listed company in question to remove the imposter Twitter account – and it didn’t happen in a few days. It took a few weeks for Twitter to investigate the report of a trademark policy violation. It’s important to note that it is up to companies to recognise a violation and report it to the social media provider be it Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or whomever. In plain black and white, companies need to be monitoring social media to protect their brand and reputation.

The behaviour is reminiscent of “cybersquatting” in the early days of the Internet, when people registered Internet domains of well-known companies and sometimes demanded payments to relinquish them. This behaviour is also quite prevalent on social media.

Without effective social media monitoring, companies won’t even know their trademarks are being infringed and their reputations damaged. ‘We’re not on social media’ is not an excuse. You don’t have to be ‘on social media’ to monitor the digital environment.

If you are interested in monitoring your brand and protecting your company profile on social media, drop me an email and I can show you how. michelle@thesocialscience.com.au

Michelle Gallaher

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