How To Twittersquat The Top 100 Brands

A call for the creation of the Uniform Username Dispute Resolution Policy.

By Erik J. Heels

First published 1/8/2009; ErikJHeels.com; publisher: GiantPeople

The Problem

Of the top 100 global brands, 93% have had their Twitter usernames taken by somebody else (i.e. Twittersquatted).

Twittersquatting, like cybersquatting, is when somebody registers a company’s trademark (or a famous person’s name) as a Twitter username with the intent of profiting or causing confusion. Other possible names for this practice include username squatting, usernamesquatting, squitting, usersquatting, and brandsquatting.

But username squatting is not limited to Twitter. It exists on any service that uses name-based accounts. Check your brand on Usernamecheck.com to see just how widespread the problem is. I am picking on Twitter because it is rapidly growing in popularity and because Twitter’s dispute resolution policy is particularly poor:

5. You may not use the Twitter.com service for any illegal or unauthorized purpose. International users agree to comply with all local laws regarding online conduct and acceptable content.

10. You must not, in the use of Twitter, violate any laws in your jurisdiction (including but not limited to copyright laws).

1. We reserve the right to modify or terminate the Twitter.com service for any reason, without notice at any time.

6. We reserve the right to reclaim usernames on behalf of businesses or individuals that hold legal claim or trademark on those usernames.

This policy raises more questions than it answers, creates more problems than it solves. Twitter “reserves the right” to “reclaim” squatted usernames? Does the account owner have any rights? Does the trademark owners? How are the disputes initiated?

Today, trying to reclaim a squatted username on Twitter is a hit-or-miss proposition.

This is a huge problem for trademark owners and social media companies alike. For trademark owners, their names are being taken by others, causing confusion in the marketplace and harming the trademark owner’s brand. For social media companies like Twitter, disputes about usernames are likely consuming valuable company resources.

And let’s not forget innocent users. There should be no presumption of guilt in any username policy.

A standard policy exists for resolving trademark disputes (e.g. cybersquatting) for most registered domain names, namely the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). I am hereby calling on the top social networking companies (Google, Twitter, MySpace, WordPress.com, and Microsoft) to create a UURP – Uniform Username Dispute Resolution Policy. Disputes will occur with our without good policies. Making a standardized policy will make dispute resolution less expensive.

A Username Dispute Resolution Policy is at least as important as OpenID, and many of the above are already cooperating on that initiative.

Domain Names ARE Usernames On Twitter

Confusion is not just likely with Twittersquatting, it is certain. Because on many Twitter clients, domain names are the functional equivalent of Twitter usernames.

Let’s use my username as an example. Many Twitter clients (such as TweetDeck) automatically convert any string containing “@example” into a link to Example’s Twitter account. So @example becomes http://twitter.com/example. This means that anytime anyone Tweets about an email address, a link is created to the corresponding Twitter account. So erikjheels@erikjheels.com becomes erikjheels@erikjheels.com, where @erikjheels becomes a link to http://twitter.com/ErikJHeels.

In other words, in many Twitter clients, the owner of the top-level domain name is assumed to be the owners of the corresponding Twitter account.

Top 100 Brands On Twitter – Fail and Epic Fail

With the top 100 brands, unfortunately, this is simply not the case. Most of the top brands on Twitter have been registered by squatters. Here is a breakdown of the top 100 global brands (as ranked by Interbrand):

brand

website

website grade (97% pass)

Twitter

Twitter grade (93% fail)

Accenture

http://accenture.com

pass

http://twitter.com/accenture

pass

adidas

http://adidas.com

pass

http://twitter.com/adidas

FAIL

AIG

http://aig.com

pass

http://twitter.com/aig

FAIL

Allianz

http://allianz.com

pass

http://twitter.com/allianz

FAIL

amazon.com

http://amazon.com

pass

http://twitter.com/amazon

FAIL

American Express

http://americanexpress.com

pass

http://twitter.com/americanexpress

FAIL

Apple

http://apple.com

pass

http://twitter.com/apple

FAIL

Armani

http://armani.com

pass

http://twitter.com/armani

FAIL

Audi

http://audi.com

pass

http://twitter.com/audi

FAIL

Avon

http://avon.com

pass

http://twitter.com/avon

FAIL

AXA

http://axa.com

pass

http://twitter.com/axa

FAIL

BlackBerry

http://blackberry.com

pass

http://twitter.com/blackberry

pass

BMW

http://bmw.com

pass

http://twitter.com/bmw

FAIL

BP

http://bp.com

pass

http://twitter.com/bp

FAIL

Budweiser

http://budweiser.com

pass

http://twitter.com/budweiser

FAIL

Canon

http://canon.com

pass

http://twitter.com/canon

FAIL

Cartier

http://cartier.com

pass

http://twitter.com/cartier

FAIL

Caterpillar

http://caterpillar.com

pass

http://twitter.com/caterpillar

FAIL

Chanel

http://chanel.com

pass

http://twitter.com/chanel

FAIL

Cisco

http://cisco.com

pass

http://twitter.com/cisco

FAIL

Citi

http://citi.com

pass

http://twitter.com/citi

FAIL

Coca-Cola

http://cocacola.com

pass

http://twitter.com/cocacola

FAIL

Colgate

http://colgate.com

pass

http://twitter.com/colgate

FAIL

Danone

http://danone.com

pass

http://twitter.com/danone

FAIL

Dell

http://dell.com

pass

http://twitter.com/dell

FAIL

Disney

http://disney.com

pass

http://twitter.com/disney

FAIL

Duracell

http://duracell.com

pass

http://twitter.com/duracell

FAIL

eBay

http://ebay.com

pass

http://twitter.com/ebay

FAIL

FedEx

http://fedex.com

pass

http://twitter.com/fedex

FAIL

Ferrari

http://ferrari.com

pass

http://twitter.com/ferrari

FAIL

Ford

http://ford.com

pass

http://twitter.com/ford

FAIL

Gap

http://gap.com

pass

http://twitter.com/gap

FAIL

GE

http://ge.com

pass

http://twitter.com/ge

FAIL

Gillette

http://gillette.com

pass

http://twitter.com/gillette

FAIL

Goldman Sachs

http://goldmansachs.com

pass

http://twitter.com/goldmansachs

FAIL

Google

http://google.com

pass

http://twitter.com/google

FAIL

Gucci

http://gucci.com

pass

http://twitter.com/gucci

FAIL

H & M

http://handm.com

EPIC FAIL

http://twitter.com/handm

FAIL

Harley-Davidson

http://harleydavidson.com

pass

http://twitter.com/harleydavidson

pass

Heinz

http://heinz.com

pass

http://twitter.com/heinz

FAIL

Hennessy

http://hennessy.com

pass

http://twitter.com/hennessy

FAIL

Hermes

http://hermes.com

pass

http://twitter.com/hermes

FAIL

Hewlett-Packard

http://hewlettpackard.com

pass

http://twitter.com/hewlettpackard

FAIL

Honda

http://honda.com

pass

http://twitter.com/honda

FAIL

HSBC

http://hsbc.com

pass

http://twitter.com/hsbc

FAIL

Hyundai

http://hyundai.com

pass

http://twitter.com/hyundai

FAIL

IBM

http://ibm.com

pass

http://twitter.com/ibm

FAIL

Ikea

http://ikea.com

pass

http://twitter.com/ikea

FAIL

ING

http://ing.com

pass

http://twitter.com/ing

FAIL

Intel

http://intel.com

pass

http://twitter.com/intel

FAIL

J.P. Morgan

http://jpmorgan.com

pass

http://twitter.com/jpmorgan

FAIL

Johnson & Johnson

http://johnsonandjohnson.com

pass

http://twitter.com/johnsonandjohnson

EPIC FAIL

Kellogg’s

http://kelloggs.com

pass

http://twitter.com/kelloggs

FAIL

KFC

http://kfc.com

pass

http://twitter.com/kfc

FAIL

Kleenex

http://kleenex.com

pass

http://twitter.com/kleenex

FAIL

L’Oreal

http://loreal.com

pass

http://twitter.com/loreal

FAIL

Lexus

http://lexus.com

pass

http://twitter.com/lexus

FAIL

Louis Vuitton

http://louisvuitton.com

pass

http://twitter.com/louisvuitton

FAIL

Marlboro

http://marlboro.com

pass

http://twitter.com/marlboro

FAIL

Marriott

http://marriott.com

pass

http://twitter.com/marriott

FAIL

McDonald’s

http://mcdonalds.com

pass

http://twitter.com/mcdonalds

FAIL

Mercedes

http://mercedes.com

pass

http://twitter.com/mercedes

FAIL

Merrill Lynch

http://merrilllynch.com

pass

http://twitter.com/merrilllynch

FAIL

Microsoft

http://microsoft.com

pass

http://twitter.com/microsoft

FAIL

Moet & Chandon

http://moetandchandon.com

EPIC FAIL

http://twitter.com/moetandchandon

EPIC FAIL

Morgan Stanley

http://morganstanley.com

pass

http://twitter.com/morganstanley

FAIL

Motorola

http://motorola.com

pass

http://twitter.com/motorola

FAIL

MTV

http://mtv.com

pass

http://twitter.com/mtv

FAIL

Nescafe

http://nescafe.com

pass

http://twitter.com/nescafe

FAIL

Nestle

http://nestle.com

pass

http://twitter.com/nestle

FAIL

Nike

http://nike.com

pass

http://twitter.com/nike

FAIL

Nintendo

http://nintendo.com

pass

http://twitter.com/nintendo

FAIL

Nivea

http://nivea.com

pass

http://twitter.com/nivea

FAIL

Nokia

http://nokia.com

pass

http://twitter.com/nokia

FAIL

Oracle

http://oracle.com

pass

http://twitter.com/oracle

pass

Panasonic

http://panasonic.com

pass

http://twitter.com/panasonic

FAIL

Pepsi

http://pepsi.com

pass

http://twitter.com/pepsi

FAIL

Philips

http://philips.com

pass

http://twitter.com/philips

FAIL

Pizza Hut

http://pizzahut.com

pass

http://twitter.com/pizzahut

FAIL

Porsche

http://porsche.com

pass

http://twitter.com/porsche

FAIL

Prada

http://prada.com

pass

http://twitter.com/prada

FAIL

Rolex

http://rolex.com

pass

http://twitter.com/rolex

FAIL

Samsung

http://samsung.com

pass

http://twitter.com/samsung

FAIL

SAP

http://sap.com

pass

http://twitter.com/sap

EPIC FAIL

Shell

http://shell.com

pass

http://twitter.com/shell

FAIL

Siemens

http://siemens.com

pass

http://twitter.com/siemens

FAIL

Smirnoff

http://smirnoff.com

pass

http://twitter.com/smirnoff

FAIL

Sony

http://sony.com

pass

http://twitter.com/sony

FAIL

Starbucks

http://starbucks.com

pass

http://twitter.com/starbucks

pass

Thomson Reuters

http://thomsonreuters.com

pass

http://twitter.com/thomsonreuters

pass

Tiffany & Co.

http://tiffanyandco.com

pass

http://twitter.com/tiffanyandco

FAIL

Toyota

http://toyota.com

pass

http://twitter.com/toyota

FAIL

UBS

http://ubs.com

pass

http://twitter.com/ubs

EPIC FAIL

UPS

http://ups.com

pass

http://twitter.com/ups

FAIL

Visa

http://visa.com

pass

http://twitter.com/visa

FAIL

Volkswagen

http://volkswagen.com

pass

http://twitter.com/volkswagen

FAIL

Wrigley’s

http://wrigleys.com

EPIC FAIL

http://twitter.com/wrigleys

FAIL

Xerox

http://xerox.com

pass

http://twitter.com/xerox

FAIL

Yahoo!

http://yahoo.com

pass

http://twitter.com/yahoo

pass

Zara

http://zara.com

pass

http://twitter.com/zara

FAIL

I’ve never heard of some of these companies. Perhaps next year’s chart should consider how clued each company is about its Internet presence before declaring them “top brands.”

To create domain names from brands, I removed all punctuation, changed “&” symbols to “and,” and eliminated all spaces. In other words, I crated the most obvious domain name for each brand.

Companies need to think more about how their brands work in the Internet age. FedEx got lucky. They started out as Federal Express before the Internet was all the rage then rebranded to FedEx. Today, they are FedEx. Nobody refers to them as Federal Express. American Express should follow this model and rebrand as AMEX. Since that’s what everybody calls them. (And “that’s what you call us anyway” was part of FedEx’s rebranding media campaign.) Other brands on this list need work, primarily because they are too long. Twitter usernames are limited to 15 characters, for example.

Grading:

  • Any company that doesn’t own it’s dot-com domain name in 2009 gets a grade of EPIC FAIL. Use the UDRP or buy it. But own your brand at least as a dot-com domain name.
  • Any company whose brand is longer than 15 characters (maximum Twitter username length) gets a grade of EPIC FAIL. Get a shorter brand.
  • Any company that doesn’t have a Twitter username and whose username was unregistered at the time of this survey gets a grade of EPIC FAIL. It’s one thing to let your username go to a squatter, it’s another to not even try. (Twitter may be “reserving” some of the unregistered three-letter usernames.)
  • Any company that doesn’t have the Twitter username that corresponds to its most obvious domain name gets a grade of FAIL.

Of the top 100 brands, only seven get a passing grade: Accenture, BlackBerry, Harley-Davidson, Oracle, Starbucks, Thomson Reuters, and Yahoo! And of these, only Starbucks and Oracle appear to be engaging in meaningful conversations on Twitter.

How To Spot A Twittersquatter

Sometimes it’s easy to spot a squatter, like when they brag about it as the squatter of the Goldman Sachs trademark has done:

squitter – someone (like me) who registers a brand name twitter handle for safekeeping and future profit

But sometimes Twittersquatting is harder to spot. Like when I do it to make a point.

For this article, I registered MoetAndChandon as an account on Twitter to (1) demonstrate how easy it is to create fake Twitter accounts that look real, (2) call attention to the problem of username squatting in general and Twittersquatting in particular, and (3) demonstrate the need for a Uniform Username Dispute Resolution Policy on all username-based social networks.

I will, of course, turn this account over to Twitter or Moet & Chandon as soon as possible after publishing this article.

How To Be A Twittersquatter

Step 1 – Create a fake account, preferably with a matching email account that you can create with any web-based email provider. (Note that I used my actual email address, thus doing an exceedingly poor job of hiding my true identity. It’s as if I’m trying to make a point or something. Just like Wired Magazine’s Joshua Quittner did in 1994 by registering mcdonalds.com.)

Step 2 – Invite your friends! You can skip this step. Nobody wants to be friends with a squatter.

Step 3 – Start Tweeting! But be careful. Your first Tweet is important. Make it a good one.

Step 4 – If your victim’s website sucks, try looking to their press releases for fodder for your – I mean their – first Tweet.

Step 5 – Tweet it!

Step 6 – Make it look legit! Add good bio info, a link to the victim’s website, perhaps some a copyrighted background image and trademarked avatar. You’ll note that I skipped this step, but here’s what your first Tweet looks like:

Congratulations, you are now a Twittersquatter.

Summary

I anticipate being misquoted and misunderstood, so for those with attention spans of 140 characters or less, here is a summary of my main points:

  • Domain names became popular. Cybersquatting started. Then the UDRP helped resolve domain name disputes.
  • Usernames have become popular. Username squatting (including, but not limited to, Twittersqatting) has started. A Uniform Username Dispute Resolution Policy (UURP) is needed to resolve username disputes.
  • Branding on the Internet is no longer limited to dot-com websites. Usernames are also valuable.
  • Twitter, in particular, needs to address this issue immediately. Twittersquatting is easy to do, widespread, and costly to remedy.
  • 97% of the top 100 brands score a passing grade for protecting their brands as domain names.
  • 93% of the top 100 brands score a failing grade for protecting their usernames on Twitter.

This is a solvable problem. Let’s solve it.


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Comments

  1. Sarah Bourne says...

    Personal names of public figures is an issues as well. For politicians, celebrities, etc., their name is their brand. For example, the Twitter account DevalPatrick is used by a GOP website critical of Governor Patrick.

    There’s quite a bit of advice in the marketing world about reserving your brand in various social sites, but you are right, that’s just not enough.

  2. Latoicha says...

    This is a fantastic article! I was just discussing with some of my clients, the need to reserve their username on Twitter. I totally agree with you and I sincerely hope that Twitter heeds your advice.

    Best!