Engaging with customers online is quickly becoming the norm as consumers increasingly use social media to ask questions, seek customer service, and participate in dialogue with a business or their brand. The use of social media to deliver customer service allows businesses to be at the forefront of our digital age. That said, businesses could be doing more to protect their brands, credibility and accountability over their various social media accounts. Namely, in building or maintaining trust with customers over online communications, businesses must find ways to help customers know they are engaging with the business’ legitimate social media account.

Most of the popular social media platforms allow account holders, such as celebrities and businesses or their brands, to “verify” or “authenticate” their account which can appear as a blue checkmark verification badge next to the user’s name. The verification process differs between platforms. For example, Facebook’s verification process involves the submission of an application form to the social media network and official documentation authenticating the account (i.e., trademark registration for the company name or brand), while Twitter does not accept verification requests from the general public, but rather automatically generates verification badges for high-profile accounts (e.g., highly sought users in music, acting, fashion, government, sports, business and other key interest areas).

Beyond the verification badge

While verification improves visibility of the social media account, promotes interaction between the business and the public, and deters fraudulent accounts and identity theft, it is limited to a single platform and may not be enough to protect brand credibility across social media driven communications with customers.

In addition to the verification badge offered by popular social media platforms, businesses should also think about other ways to notify the public of all social media platforms and handles that they use. Many businesses provide a link from their official website to their various social media accounts. While this may be sufficient for companies that consistently use one social media handle, what about larger companies, those with a global presence, or those with multiple sub-brands or departments that use a multitude of social media handles? Keeping track of all social media platforms and handles used is only one side of the coin. With the number of fan, fraudulent and piggy-back social media accounts out there, businesses also need to consider what they are doing to let their customers know which social media handles are legitimate.

Businesses can learn from the U.S. government, which has already taken steps to address the ever-changing digital age by providing a central place for users to access reliable public service information and by authenticating all official government and public service accounts on numerous third-party websites and social media platforms.

The U.S. Digital Registry

While official websites of the U.S. government are easily identifiable to the public through the .gov and .mil domain name, third-party websites and social media platforms used officially by the government are not easily recognizable as being official. As described in our recent blog post on Social Engineering Fraud, the US government recently launched the US Digital Registry, which allows users to check that they are engaging with official government bodies.

The Digital Registry includes only those accounts that represent official US government agencies, organizations, programs, and those accounts managed by heads of agencies or members of the President’s cabinet. No personal or employee accounts are included. The data fields in the registry include the agency name, third-party platform (website, social media, etc.), account, language, points of contact and collaborative tags.

In addition to creating a central repository, the Registry helps citizens feel more confident that they are engaging with the correct agency, and that they can share information without the worry of second guessing that the person who they are communicating with is who they say they are.

Although not quite as savvy as the Digital Registry, the Government of Canada also provides on its website, a searchable list of all official social media channels and the account names or handles used.

Businesses with numerous social media handles, whether they represent different brands, sub-brands, departments, or subsidiaries in different jurisdictions, can certainly benefit from the idea of the Digital Registry and having a central place to notify customers of all official social media accounts.

Tips for Businesses to Consider

Helping your customers know who they are engaging with online is critical to brand protection, trust and credibility for your business. Below are some tips for businesses to consider:

  • Make sure social media accounts for your company and brands, including sub-brands or departments. are verified or authenticated (where possible).
  • If the platform does not offer a verification service, consider including a link to your official website or a verified social media account.
  • Similar to the idea of the US Digital Registry, consider having a central place where all social media handles are listed and available to your customer base (whether on your main webpage under a “Contact Us” or “Find us on Social Media” section).
  • Interconnect your social media presence across all platforms by providing links to other social media accounts.
  • Check for fraudulent social media accounts and take action to remove them, as part of your routine intellectual property enforcement procedures.