The internet has expanded at an incredible rate in the last 20 years. In 1995, less than 1% of the world had an internet connection; today that number has reached 40%, and it’s still growing. Brands now have the chance to reach a wider audience on a global basis and, as a result, the internet has become an essential part of the marketing game.
Social media, online shopping, and review websites are just a few examples of the opportunities and challenges that brands must now face when managing their reputation online. The prominence of social media, in particular, has risen astronomically in recent years. Facebook alone recently had 1 billion active users in a single day. That’s 1 out of every 7 people on the planet. Figures like these make the power of social media very clear, which has important repercussions for businesses.
For example, NetNames’ research has shown that nearly three quarters of today’s consumers (71%) are more likely to make a purchase based on referrals by their friends on social media. Combine this with the fact that 77% of consumers now look at online reviews before making a purchase, and it reveals how integral the influence of the internet and social media are to shoppers’ buying decisions.
Social media creates new opportunities for businesses to build their brand, but at the same time it can also create serious risks. The rising level of online counterfeit and fraud has become a constant threat to the hard-won reputation of established brands, which means that businesses must now invest time and capital into protecting themselves from fraudsters who create fake profiles to impersonate them.
The unauthorised use of trademarks in this area will not only result in tangible financial losses for the brand owners concerned, but will also cause long-term damage to their reputation. While a strong brand reputation is hard won, it can be easily lost. NetNames’ research shows that nearly eight out of 10 consumers (78%) admit they would lose respect for a company if they found themselves on a fake website pertaining to be that brand – even if the company itself was not directly responsible. Worse still, consumers admitted they might avoid a brand for up to two years following this type of experience.
Figures like these illustrate just how important a company’s reputation is, and also how fragile, as fraudsters can easily cause substantial damage through impersonation. The good news is that there are various ways that businesses can protect their customers from being duped by fake social media profiles.
For a start, businesses will need to take a much more proactive approach to brand protection. Rather than simply waiting for the police to take down fraudulent accounts, companies must take an active role in defending their trademarks and copyright. Brands can, and do, hold the power to make a difference in their own hands. Proactive monitoring and enforcement can reduce the risk associated with trademark infringement extremely quickly and effectively. Liaising with the correct authorities is an effective step in the right direction when it comes to protection. At the same time, brand owners can also teach their customers how to spot and avoid counterfeit sites in the first place. This way, consumers will not only be able to spot a scam more easily and avoid it, but can also report it themselves straight away, adding to the effectiveness of an online brand protection programme.
Given the sheer volume of the fake profiles and websites currently operating, it is simply not feasible to treat online brand protection as a secondary objective within the business. Instead, businesses should consider appointing a dedicated brand protection manager and working with partners to focus on raising awareness of copyright infringement both internally and externally, whilst also working with law enforcement to protect the company’s copyright and, by extension, its brand reputation.
Modern businesses cannot afford to ignore these threats any longer. The internet and social media have grown into an ever-increasing and relatively unregulated environment that can dramatically sway public opinion on a brand, either positively or negatively. This is why it is imperative that companies rigorously monitor their online presence and fight any copyright infringement, as failure to do so will put both their revenues and reputation at risk.