social-mediaIt is dangerous for companies and high profile individuals to assume that social media is just a playground where people just tell others what they’ve had for dinner and take photographs of snow in their back garden.

That does happen (far too often) but social media, and other online platforms, are far more than just that – they are defining the way that brands and reputations are viewed.

“Today’s newspapers are just tomorrow’s fish n chip paper”

As any Daily Mail reader will tell you, this is no longer so. Not just because newspapers aren’t used to wrap chips anymore (“Health n Safety gone mad”) but also because any feature in the Mail will almost always appear in the MailOnline, the world’s most read English language newspaper, and indefinitely on Google.

Reputations, of brands, companies and individuals, are often defined by their Google search results, which begs the question:- if your name is denigrated, defamed and damaged behind the Times’ paywall is your reputation harmed in the same way as a mauling in the Mail which will hover in your top Google search results for weeks to come?

The success of the MailOnline has resulted in enormous online advertising revenue – £45m according to results released in March 2013 which confirmed that ad revenue online had overtaken hard copy revenue. What is perhaps most interesting about the statistics released by the Mail is that 43% of its users read the online newspaper on a handheld device. This inevitably means that, if you are defamed by the MailOnline, 43% of those right-thinking members of society will have their estimation of you lowered on a handheld device.

Many of these users will be one of the @MailOnline’s 269,268 Twitter users, the 126,100 /DailyMail Facebook users or, more likely, one of the 1.15m daily users of the Mail’s Apple or Android Apps.

The next generation of consumers do not have the time or the patience even for a computer. It seems inexplicable to say this but, if you primarily use a laptop to consume news and entertainment, then you are, I am afraid, old fashioned. In using handheld devices to consume news and entertainment consumers are using different forums than just simply internet browsers. Social media Apps (as opposed to Google) are often used to research brands, companies or individuals. Which makes a social media strategy all the more crucial.

Even those consumers who do you use laptops or PCs are often driven to social media on Google or other search engines like Yahoo. Wikipedia is so often the first search result on Google for individuals or companies and Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages come very high on Google rankings. To take one of the world’s most famous brands as an example:-

Coca Cola

The first page of Google always offers 10 results. Coca Cola’s are as follows (with social media pages in red):-

  1. Coca Cola’s UK homepage.
  2. Wikipedia.
  3. Coca Cola’s commercial “Coke Zone” page.
  4. Coca Cola’s international .com page.
  5. Coca Cola’s corporate page.
  6. Coca Cola’s Facebook page.
  7. Coca Cola’s Twitter page.
  8. Coca Cola’s YouTube page.
  9. Coca Cola’s digital magazine.
  10. The Guardian’s devoted section to Coca Cola.

The dominance of social media, on such a massive brand, is impressive. For smaller brands (i.e. almost every other brand in the world!) the challenge is even greater.

If I don’t someone else will

A recent report in the New York Times claims that as many as 20 million accounts on Facebook are fake. There is also a lot of mischief being caused by serial impersonators. Companies and individuals are regularly being impersonated on social media for a whole host of reasons – vendettas, fantasists, domain squatters, spammers, stalkers.

The problem isn’t limited to just Twitter and Facebook. We have seen problems on LinkedIn, YouTube,, Formspring, Lockerz, and Blackberry Pin Messaging, to name but a few.

The epidemic of impersonations is perhaps one of the most pressing reasons for a brand or high profile individual to get on social media.

Fernando Torres, for example, is not an avid user of social media, however, in order to avoid any further confusion he set up the Twitter account @Torres with a solitary Tweet – “I have not started on Twitter yet, but this is my official page and it is ready to go when the timing is right”.

It is not just for World Cup winning footballers to concern themselves with though. Takedown requests have been issued on behalf of companies, company directors and other executives.

Newspapers have been caught out on countless occasions by fake profiles. To name and shame a few newspapers which reported Tweets and posts from fake accounts:- Mirror – Rio Ferdinand, MailOnline – Katie Price, The Independent – Andy Townsend, The Metro – Mario Balotelli. Reports like these, and those in the New York Times, damage the perceived integrity of social media. This is why the terms and conditions of all respectable social media platforms ban impersonation.

Even if you or your company don’t wish to pursue an active social media strategy a defensive one is, at the very least, required. Delete impersonations and “squat” on your own goodwill and intellectual property because, if you don’t care, someone else will.

This post originally appeared on the Himsworths Legal blog and is reproduced with permission and thanks.