A more common form of squatting relates to social media vanity URLs, which let you link to your social media profiles in a more user-friendly way. Vanity URLs enable you to replace the gobbledygook (www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/profile.php?id=845862041&ref=ts) found in a typical social media profile link with a handle of your choosing, i.e. www.facebook.com/yourorgname. Organizations slow to use social media are finding that vanity URLs are being set up by employee groups, alumni, customers, and yes, competitors.
Little or No Recourse
Like domain names, vanity URLs on social networks and groups are served up on a first-come, first-serve basis: if someone gets their first, it’s theirs. With domain names, organizations in some countries can challenge the ownership of the domain if the offending name infringes on a legal trademark. But if that isn’t the case, the only recourse is to buy the domain name from the current registrant. Most social networking sites prohibit the sale of user accounts, but do reserve the right to reclaim a vanity URL or transfer ownership of a group to a new user; however, the situations that make that possible are not clearly defined.
How to Protect Your Organization Against Squatting
Whether you realize the value of social media or not, some in and outside your organization do, and at some point they will most likely establish a networking group that relates to your organization. While you can prohibit employees from doing certain things related to social media in the workplace, as long as employees are not violating trademark law, it’s difficult for organizations to prohibit people from assembling online and affiliating with your brand.
If you are interested in protecting your organization against social media squatters, consider the following:
- Register now. To insure that choice group names and vanity URLs are yours for use later, the best approach is to stop resisting and join the revolution! Even if you are not ready to start interacting, you should go ahead and reserve your vanity URLs and group names. After all, they are free!
- Monitor frequently. It takes minutes to set up a group and hundreds of engaged stakeholders can join overnight, so whether you are leveraging social media in your strategy or not, you need to frequently monitor the major social networking sites to spot initiatives to build a community related to your organization quickly.
- Support employee and customer efforts. It’s a lot easier to influence a community when you are part of it versus trying to regulate its actions from outside the wall. If your customers or your employees want to network, they are going to do so whether you want them to or not. When initiatives start up, get over resisting, and support the initiatives to the extent you can.
While it used to be routine for organizations to take years to adapt to new technologies and social trends, doing so today can create a gigantic culture lag between life inside the organization and the outside world. With smart phones becoming ubiquitous, access to social networking sites is too. If you don’t step up to the plate and start servicing your stakeholders using social media, chances are someone else will. To use a quote famous among fans of Star Trek, “resistance is futile.”