From Our Partners At Radix
Let’s assume that you recently started a small online business, which is now reaping the fruits of your labor. Sales and revenue have increased consistently, customer acquisition is showing promising results and you’ve finally managed to cultivate an online image that people love and identify with.
One day, however, your inbox is flooded with emails from angry customers even though you are not doing anything differently. After looking into the matter, you realize that someone has created a website or a social media page identical to yours and is engaging with people seemingly on your behalf. In other words, this entity has hijacked your brand. In industry terms, you’ve been brandjacked. Before you can avoid brandjacking and defend your business, you need to understand this phenomenon.
What is brandjacking?
A portmanteau derived from the words “brand” and “hijack”, brandjacking is when another individual or group entity assumes your brand’s online identity in a way that is indiscernible to others.
In doing so, that entity takes control over your online activity, communicating with others while pretending to be you through fake social media accounts, email addresses and websites. Brandjacking can have an adverse effect on your online reputation and can damage the trust and confidence of your customers. That can lead to financial losses and expenses incurred through damage control.
Some of the most common brandjacking methods are:
- Squatting: When an entity registers domain names similar to those of the main brand to create fake websites.
- Social media: When an entity creates fake social media accounts and posts content pretending to be you.
- Adwords: When an entity places higher bids on keywords relevant to your brand and eats into your organic traffic.
Brandjacking is a common and malicious practice that affects both small and large businesses. Large enterprises will invest in full-fledged online reputation management (ORM) teams that are always on the lookout for brand mentions and have proper protocols in place in case of brandjacking.
However, there are several preventive and curative measures that small businesses can take to combat brandjacking.
1. Register Your Trademark
First and foremost, your brand needs a protective legal layer that allows you to sue another party that tries to infringe on its identity. These days, it is easy for anyone to download or create an image identical to your company’s logo and use it to impersonate your brand online.
Register a trademark for any such property that is prone to being stolen, such as your logo, tagline, brand name and domain name. Conduct thorough research on global and country-specific trademark laws to understand your rights and responsibilities. If the budget permits, hire a legal team to help you out.
2. Invest in Brand-Related Domains
One of the best ways to protect your brand against brandjacking is to buy key domain names that are similar to your existing domain. This will prevent hackers from buying and using them with the wrong intent. Start by investing in website names that sound or are spelled like yours.
For example, www.googel.com redirects to www.google.com. Another trick is to register your domain name on relevant domain extensions. For instance, if you log on to www.apple.store, it will redirect you to Apple’s commercial website. Similarly, www.amazon.tech redirects to Amazon’s primary website.
Another useful strategy is to check the keywords in your domain name. If your website is www.digitalautotech.com, register www.digitalauto.tech as a means of brand protection.
3. Invest in Social Listening Tools
Almost everyone has access to social media these days, which is great news for brands trying to reach a wider audience. The downside of this, however, is that anyone can assume your brand’s identity and interact with people while pretending to be you. They can post offensive content and comments that can hurt people’s sentiments and garner negative publicity for your brand.
To prevent this, you need to have eyes and ears everywhere in cyberspace. Virtual omnipresence is possible by using social listening tools that track every online mention of your brand name. You can set up alerts for whenever your brand name is mentioned and take action if you find that they are maligning your online reputation. Some social listening tools that you could explore include Brand24, TweetDeck and Socialmention.
4. Have a Crisis Management Plan
Brandjacking and other online scams are as real and formidable as any unforeseen financial losses or physical damage. Just like you prepare to tackle these crises, you should also have a contingency plan in place in case you fall prey to brandjacking.
Start by identifying the different levels of brandjacking threats you might face and define appropriate responses to each of them, including at what level they need to be tackled. Some issues can be dealt with effectively by your online reputation management team, while other serious ones might require high-level management to intervene.
You should also keep some responses ready in case you need to salvage the situation by communicating directly with your customers. For instance, you may need to create a social media post or email a particular customer in the case of an event that impacted them individually. Prompt responses with proper solutions can alleviate much of the brandjacking threat.
Brandjacking is akin to identity theft and can have wide-ranging consequences for your business, from small trust issues with a few customers to long-term damage to your reputation or even irreversible monetary losses. However, by covering all your bases and establishing a robust crisis management strategy, you can avoid brandjacking and protect your most valuable asset: your customers.
Author: Alisha Shibli
Alisha is a Senior Content Marketing & Communication Specialist at Radix, the registry behind some of the most successful new domain extensions, including .ONLINE and .TECH. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.