How Businesses Should Handle Social Media Squatters

When it comes to promoting your business online, there is a lot to be said for including social media marketing into the mix of your digital marketing strategy. Especially since popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, LinkedIn and so many more provide businesses with the perfect opportunity to engage and interact with customers and prospects from all around the world.

So how exactly should you respond when you decide to take the plunge only to find that someone else has grabbed your company or brand name on one of these social networks? Well to start, as frustrating as it may be, try and remain calm and keep in mind that not all social media squatters are the same.

Some may be trying to make money while others may simply be fans of the business. Others may genuinely have the right to use the name. For example, a business with a similar name in a different city or country. Therefore, the approach to try and resolve username squatting really has to be taken on a case-by-case basis. With that in mind, below are four ways to deal with social media squatters.

1. Plead your case to the social media platform

Social media handles on most platforms are claimed on a first-come, first-served basis. Thus If you are a public figure or an established business with strong brand recognition consider contacting the social media companies directly if someone has set up a fake account.

With your supporting paperwork, they may agree that the social media squatter is holding on to the user name in bad faith and then transfer the active or inactive account. Then you can begin your social media marketing efforts with the right user name at no cost and with minimal interaction with the squatters.

That said, do note that each social media platform has its own best practice ways to deal with these infringement claims so make sure to check out their trademark and copyright policies – click here for Twitter and Facebook.    You will see that if you pursue a claim, you will be asked to verify that you have a legitimate interest including being the legal owner of the business and trademark account names. The starting point is usually filling out an intellectual property violation form, and providing supporting documents.

Supporting documents to get the current account closed down and handed over to you could include company registration, trademarked names registration, domain registrations, stock ownership documents, tax returns, etc. But as there can be two companies with the same or similar names, the most important will most likely be your trademark registrations.

2. Deal with the person behind the account

Another route to reclaiming your brand social media user name is to try and deal directly with the people behind the squatting account. If the account is inactive, they might be more than willing to transfer it for free. If they have developed a strong fan base, you will most likely have to pay a squatter settlement before they transfer the username and password details.

It will be frustrating to pay, but think of how reclaiming access could help your company grow. Thus, think about what the account is worth to you and set a limit for negotiating. If it is possible to come to an agreement that is well within your appraisal of the site, it is worth pursuing.

This approach can actually be much faster than dealing directly with a social media site over a squatter. It is also likely to end without any negative PR for your business. If you are seen to be trampling over an individual or small firm or going behind their back, you may find that you get a lot of bad press, which is not good in the long run.

3. Take legal action

If you have not been able to secure your preferred social media handle by dealing directly with the social media platforms or person squatting on the account, consider taking legal action, especially if you have the trademark for the name. Be mindful though that legal action could lead to a court case and court battles can be notoriously expensive, emotionally draining, and take a long time.

Thus, spend some time researching via search engines like Google your country’s legislation regarding domain squatting and social media squatting. For example, in the United States, there is the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) which was enacted in 1999 in an attempt to prevent cybersquatters from registering Internet domain names containing trademarks for the purpose of selling those domain names back to the trademark owner.

If you are having difficulty finding relevant legislation for your country, check out the World Intellectual Property Organization which provides free of charge access to the legal information on intellectual property (IP), including IP laws and regulations. Another organization to check out is the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers’ (ICANN) which has a system of arbitration.

If after review you review these sources and think you have a strong case, speak with an attorney about pursuing legal action for trademark infringement. Here, it is important that the lawyer you speak with is currently practicing and specializing in intellectual property law.

4. Use a different social media handle

Another alternative is to use a completely different social media handle. No this is not the ideal resolution but if it is similar yet different, over time your clients, prospects, partners, etc. will all begin to associate the social media handle with your company. Plus this will allow you to be consistent across all the social media sites.

That said, would recommend that as a new social network site gets launched; claim your business name on the new site. It doesn’t mean that you have to devote time to this new network, just that you want to avoid having to further deal with social media squatters. You can use a website like Namecheckr to keep up with all the new social media websites.

All in all, while social media squatters can be an annoyance for any business, there are ways to gain control of what is rightfully yours or simply to move ahead. The name of your social media handle is important, but what is even more important is creating content that will help attract and retain profitable and happy clients.

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