Once upon a time, connecting your brand across online properties was relatively easy. So long as you had the URL, there was little else to think about. Today, the landscape is very different with organisations having to connect their brand across multiple social sites; each with very different trademark policies and control points.
I was reminded of this today following the launch of the John Lewis Christmas advertisement. For those outside of the UK, John Lewis is a highly respected retailer (think Nordstrom in the US). The launch of its Christmas adverts have become something of an event, creating lots of social noise and sharing with TV networks even battling to be the first to screen it
However @Johnlewis isn’t owned by John Lewis the retailer. It’s owned by…well, Mr. John Lewis, a computer science educator from Virginia in the US. Technically, and legally, he’s not doing anything wrong. He just got to the Twitter handle first.
@JohnLewis has become something of a Twitter legend in his own right and his responses to mistakenly directed tweets are very humorous indeed. And that’s the problem, Twitter users won’t search for the correct account (it’s actually @JohnLewisRetail), Twitter is immediate, tweets are made on impulse so they’ll just take a guess.
@JohnLewis isn’t violating any trademark policies published by Twitter. He’s not passing himself off as a British retailer and there’s no intent to mislead. In this instance there’s little @johnLewisRetail can do but play nicely; in response @JohnLewis is always the first to loop the retailer in on the conversation.
And they aren’t alone. @Heinz is a Heinz Wittenbrink, an online journalist. @JohnnieWalker is John Walker, a one-time venture capitalist and @Kraft is Brandon Kraft from Austin, Texas.
Of course not every scenario is as innocent as these and Twitter does have policies in place to address true trademark violation; but note, name squatting alone won’t cut it, “Note that we [Twitter] will not release inactive or squatted usernames except in cases of trademark infringement”.
@BPGlobalPR exists as a thorn in (the real) BP’s side, tweeting anti-BP messages to its 131,000 followers. It’s gone beyond a parody account IMHO and as amusing as many of the tweets are you can’t deny the brand damage that’s occurring. Honestly, I’m amazed that BP hasn’t thrown [legal] cash at this problem and submitted a cease and desist.
So, what can you do if your desired twitter name isn’t available?
Start by reviewing the Twitter Trademark violation policy and if you have an account impersonating your brand (ie: misleading your audience) there’s a strong case for it being closed down. But remember parody and impersonation are not the same thing. So long as the parody account follows these Twitter guidelines there’s little to be done, hence the continued success (14k followers) of @notzuckerberg.
With the more innocuous cases, such as John Lewis’ there’s nothing legally that can be done to force a transfer of the username. Most brands simply add a name extension (like John Lewis Retail). Common extensions include company, group, corporate etc.
Our desired username (@wds) is being “squatted” on. It’s tweeted once in six years. We use @wdscompany instead. We routinely check the @wds account to see if there are any followers who’ve made a genuine mistake, but other than that there’s no issue.
Or I guess you could just ask [the owner] nicely!
Right, I’m off to follow @JohnLewis, it’s just too darn entertaining to miss.