Twitter's "buy" button and the war on counterfeiting

David Franklin - NetNamesThe Internet has expanded at an incredible rate in the last 20 years. In 1995, less than 1 per cent of the world's population had an Internet connection. Today that number has reached 40 per cent, 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. 

It is no secret that social media platforms can provide brands with a powerful new way of marketing their products and services on an unprecedented scale. Figures revealed earlier this year by Statistica showed that social media giant Facebook has over one billion registered profiles, whilst the microblogging platform Twitter has 288 million monthly active users.

The rise of social media shopping

The emergence of a new Twitter "buy" button is just one example of the opportunities and challenges that brands must now face when managing their reputation online. Twitter introduced its "buy" button to a limited number of users in the US last year and has now rolled out the service globally. Consumers are now able to purchase products directly through Twitter by simply tapping the "buy" button embedded into tweets.

The Twitter "buy" button creates new opportunities for companies to build their brand, but at the same time it can also create serious risks, directing consumers to fake websites selling counterfeit and illegal products. The rising level of online counterfeit and fraud has become a constant threat to the hard-won reputations of established firms, which means that these firms must now invest time and capital into protecting themselves from fraudsters who create fake profiles to impersonate them.

NetNames' research has shown that nearly three quarters of today's consumers (71 per cent) are more likely to make a purchase based on referrals by their friends on social media. Combine this with the fact that 77 per cent 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.

The Twitter "buy" button will only increase the amount of traffic going to profiles selling counterfeit goods. Social media users often rely on the use of URL shorteners in their tweets, which makes it difficult to check the domain name and whether the link is secure so consumers might miss the tell-tale signs of a fake website.

The cost of counterfeiting

Counterfeiting creates a heavy financial burden for brands - eroding profitability, market share and outside investment. While fake goods destroy around 10 per cent of top-line revenues, they also force brands to make further investments in combatting the problem and leave them less able to invest in future innovations.

Even more insidious are the risks to both brand reputation and customers. Reputations can be instantly damaged online in front of a global audience: 78 per cent of consumers would shun a brand if they found themselves on a bogus website, even though the company itself was not negligent. Meanwhile, the risks to customers are not just financial, but physical. G20 countries now see an estimated 3,000 deaths annually due to counterfeit consumer goods alone.

The importance of protecting consumers

It is essential for firms to take immediate action to protect their brand assets from irreparable damage. Businesses need to take a much more proactive approach to brand protection; rather than simply waiting for the police to take down counterfeit products, brands must take an active role in defending their trademarks and copyright.  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, and this should now include social media sites.

At the same time, businesses can also teach their customers how to spot and avoid counterfeit products in the first place. This way, consumers will not only be able to spot a fake item more easily and avoid it, but can also report it themselves straight away, adding to the effectiveness of an online brand protection programme.

The importance of protecting your brand

Given the sheer volume of fake products online, 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 trademark and copyright infringement both internally and externally, whilst also working with law enforcement to protect the company's intellectual property and, by extension, its brand reputation. 

The Internet can be a dangerous place and modern businesses cannot afford to ignore these threats any longer. Social media has grown into a 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, including social media, and fight any counterfeit products, as failure to do so will put both revenues and reputation at risk.

David Franklin is global sales director of brand protection at NetNames, the brand protection and domain name management specialist

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