April 28, 2011

How to protect your brand on Twitter

checkOk, so you’ve finally convinced your CEO that your company (say, “Company XYZ”) needs to have a presence on Twitter. Don’t worry, it’s never too late. Your CEO is still not 100% sure how tweets will help grow the business, but he/she is certainly intrigued by any service that boasts 200 million accounts to date.

Creating a Twitter account is easy as 1-2-3. Alas, you hit a major snag almost immediately: the username “CompanyXYZ” has already been claimed by someone else! Worse, the owner of that account has been sending out tweets relevant to your line of business, creating a point of ambiguity for your customers.

What do you do?

  1. Do nothing, and just get another username variant? If your company name is a generic word or name (e.g., Monster, Apple, etc.), then you’re out of luck. Someone beat you to the punch, and your only choice is to find an alternate username. Sure, you can always approach the current owner, and propose a deal – although, be aware that buying and/or selling a Twitter username is prohibited and is a violation of Twitter’s Terms of Service. It is not worth the risk in my opinion – but this isn’t to say that buying/selling Twitter usernames doesn’t happen…
  2. If your company name is fairly unique, then you may have a claim – unless, of course, the current owner has an equal right to the name (whether it’s an individual, or a business), and there are no blatant copyright/trademark infringements (e.g., use of your company logo/image, links to download your copyrighted materials, etc.).

But what if somebody is clearly squatting on your company’s brand? That person is not using your copyrighted materials in any way, shape, or form, but is simply sending out tweets from the “CompanyXYZ” name for whatever reason. This is exactly what happened to RecruiterDotCom, our company’s Twitter name.

How to get your company’s Twitter name back

You can file one of the following violations with Twitter: copyright, trademark, impersonation or name squatting. However, even though username squatting is prohibited by the Twitter rules, this route is often a dead end – especially if the account in question is inactive, doesn’t use any copyrighted images (e.g., your company logo), or Twitter deems that there is no intent to mislead. It’s subjective at best – and Twitter will inevitably ask you for your trademark registration number to back up your claim. As puzzling as it sounds, we couldn’t even make a username squatting case for “Recruiter Dot Com”!

So if your company does not have a trademark registration number for “CompanyXYZ” (chances are, you don’t), and if you can’t readily point to any copyrighted materials (images, links to materials for which you can prove ownership), and if making a case for username squatting gets you nowhere (which it will) – then your only recourse is to go via the impersonation route.

What is Impersonation?

According to Twitter: “Impersonation is pretending to be another person or entity in order to deceive”. While it’s against Twitter rules to impersonate, Twitter users are allowed to create parody, commentary, or fan accounts. It’s fair to say that Twitter’s rules for usernames are quite liberal to say the least. Usernames are provided on a first-come, first-serve basis, and Twitter does not have a reservation policy for usernames. Twitter does not mediate content either – users are allowed to post content, including potentially offensive content! This means that if you’re the first person to reserve the Monster username on Twitter, you could conceivably tweet away at http://www.twitter.com/monster provided that you operate within Twitter’s very lax rules – and there’s nothing that Monster.com can do about it. Fortunately for Recruiter.com, the previous owner of the RecruiterDotCom username on Twitter was actually sending tweets related to the recruiting industry. We found our angle for “impersonation”.

But this was far from a slam dunk. The first step is to file a report at http://support.twitter.com/forms/impersonation. Then you wait. Forever.

Dealing with the Twitter robots

Twitter created a support ticket for my claim – and it left me feeling like I was dealing with a robot every time I communicated back and forth with them. I got my fair share of canned responses – most of which were exact reprints of their terms/policies, as found on the Twitter website. Emails were addressed to me as “Hello”, and signed by “Th” – or sometimes by “phantasm”. Phantasm?

So I started sending the same email justifying our claim for the RecruiterDotCom username over and over again. In between waiting forever, I sent a few more emails.

Success at last!

Forever later, I got a reply from “TheCaptain”. This was immediately more promising than Phantasm or Th. Or was it?


We’ve reviewed the reported account, @recruiterdotcom, and determined that it is not in violation of Twitter’s Impersonation Policy. The account is not being used in a way that is misleading or confusing with regard to its brand or business affiliation.

Twitter does not have a username reservation policy. Users are free to select any name for their account, provided they do not violate Twitter’s Terms of Service or Rules. In general, adding numbers, underscores, or abbreviations can help you claim a great username.

Twitter Trust & Safety

What??? Have they been reading any of my emails? I was barely done counting to 10 when another email came – from TheCaptain again.


The previous response was sent incorrectly, correct response below. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Thank you for providing this information. We have removed the reported profile from circulation due to violation of our Terms of Service regarding impersonation.


Twitter Trust & Safety

Moral of the Story

1) Twitter is run by robots with cool nicknames.

2) Don’t wait until 200 million people use a service before you decide to create an account.

3) Persistence is key. If someone is damaging your brand in any way, you shouldn’t give up until it’s fixed.

Read more in Personal Branding

Ashley the Co-Founder and CTO of Recruiter.com.