Don’t get picked off online. Protect your brand.

Following the latest trends online, companies should be aware that with the latest and greatest applications created online, there is a chance that their brand will be hijacked by pseudo-employees who will circulate around the network making it seem that their information is legit, when it’s not.

Take, for example, the latest story to affect Exxon Mobil. As reported on Jeremiah Owyang’s blog, it has been revealed that the Twitter account ExxonMobilCorp is not operated by the company. In fact, it has been poached by some unknown person who is imitating an employee and responding to customer issues via Twitter. This has been termed, as Jeremiah Owyang refers to, “brand jacked”.

If you’re not protecting your brand on any of the popular social media sites, then you will only find yourself straining your resources trying to reclaim it after the fact. Be proactive and evaluate all the new social applications and then make every attempt to claim your brand, slogan, and identity before anyone else. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, Second Life, Utterz, Pownce, Plurk, or even any of the domain extensions, it’s crucial to hold on to your brand. What’s perhaps the most obvious is that your company’s IT or web people will tell you to get your web address in any extension so that no one can encroach on the brand. So whenever you buy a new domain, typically you would have bought the .com, .org, or .net extensions. So why not with any other communication extension?

It’s not hard to protect your brand. Simply set it up with an email alias and most likely you can employ OpenID to manage those accounts. Once that’s done, you can use it or leave it. But the point is that you don’t allow total strangers to sneak in to take over that account profile and abuse it. In fact, there’s a list of brands that have already begun to take over their ID on Twitter. You can view a listing of those brands here.

But if you find yourself a “victim” of “brand-jacking”, Jeremiah’s article has this advice for you on addressing the perpetrator:

Be forth-coming about who you are, it’s ok to be in support for or against something, but you should be forth-coming about your identity

Don’t immediately send over any cease-and-desist notice, but investigate to find out the details behind what’s being said and find productive means to protect your brand without adding more negativity to the issue.