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Handle with care: Is your brand being damaged by Twitter squatters?

24th May 2010
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Dan Martin has found that, despite the warnings, some firms are still risking brand damage from cybersquatters.

While the social media gold rush continues, there remains a darker side to Web 2.0 that can potentially damage brand reputations through no fault of the business. Last year a survey of Twitter accounts for 100 big brand advertisers revealed that few had ownership of the Twitter handles that corresponded with the name of their brands. More worrying still, several big names had fallen victim to cybersquatters, including Mastercard and General Motors.

Several months later and some brands have still yet to heed the warning, as I found when I uncovered a worrying level of brand cybersquatting of one of the UK's most recognised high street chains.

It all came about following a visit to a Bristol branch of the Costa Coffee last week. I chose that particular chain because I picked up one of the company's new loyalty cards recently so that particular customer strategy worked. One strategy that didn't though was a conversation I overheard.

While waiting for my cappuccino to be made the store manager started talking to one of her team members about company policy. During the chat she declared that "Costa needs to stop being like Asda". Not quite sure what that means and although it was an interesting statement for a business journalist like who's always looking for a story, it wasn't particularly good for a lady waiting to be served. I looked at the customer as a way of suggesting to the staff that she was there but nothing happened. I then looked at the woman and we exchanged knowing smiles but the staff conversation carried on. At one point the team member caught sight of the customer but continued chatting.

Eventually the woman was served and I left the store but the incident provoked me into writing this blog post.

It's an unwise move to air your dirty laundry in public when running a business, particularly when customers are in earshot. It's hard to stop employees doing it but for a store manager to engage in such tittle-tattle is inexcuseable. Problems involving the inner workings of your business shouldn't be visible to the outside world as it could adversely impact on repeat business. While Costa has got it right when it comes to external things like customer loyalty cards maybe the company's management team needs to look at what's going on internally.

As is usual nowadays I turned to Twitter following this event to see if the company has a presence. It took me seconds to find  @CostaCoffee and @Costa_Coffee_UK. The first was registered in October 2008 and has made one tweet. It is followed by over 1,000 people and is included on 37 Twitter lists. The latter has many less followers but has been much more active in its tweeting. Here are a selection, two of which are pretty shocking:

A company spokesperson has confirmed to me that both accounts are unofficial. Why on earth are they still online then?! The @CostaCoffee account was registered nearly two years ago and the potentially brand damaging comments about "slave grown" bananas and drug-laden coffee beans were posted around two months ago!

If my message to the spokesperson is the first time the company has heard about these accounts it is a pretty shocking state of affairs. All I did to find the accounts was type 'Costa Coffee Twitter' into Google. No sophisticated brand monitoring tools required! Despite being a consumer-facing brand with branches across the UK, this is one company that clearly has a lot to learn about the new world of social media!

Only last week at the European Customer Experience World, Kip Knight, president of Knight Vision Marketing, warned attendees of the dangers of cybersquatters. In fact, after a session discusing the value of social media to the customer experience and emphasising how firms not involved in the practice should make it a priority, he chose to conclude his address with a warning about cybersquatting and the damage it can do to your brand.

"If you currently don't own the brand name on your Twitter account, you'd better go and check that out, because a squatter might be sat on it right now," he stressed. "You might have folks doing things under your brand name that you don't even know about!"

Certainly Costa Coffee would do well to heed his advice! 

Dan Martin is the editor of sister site, and also manages the Web 2.0 discussion group


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