How to Handle Social Squatters

Most brands deal with squatters behind the scenes, but ski
brand Ski The East asked its  19,000+ Facebook fans for their
support in claiming its Instagram account.

Before you finish reading this story, open a new window and claim all your possible social media handles—both for yourself and your organization. Go ahead—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn (company and brand pages, too), Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Google+ and yes, even MySpace.

It's a worthwhile undertaking, even if it's unlikely you'll launch your brand on that network moving forward. Not only do you protect yourself from someone making a mock account and degrading your brand, you're protecting yourself from the loathed social media squatter—someone sitting on your brand name, possibly hoping to derail your efforts or hoping for a payday from you to claim it back. 

It's a problem that Ski The East, a media, events and independent clothing company that serves the Eastern U.S. and Canadian ski community, just dealt with on Instagram. The brand, which already had a dedicated audience on Facebook, has stockpiles of high-quality ski imagery, so Instagram was a natural fit. Except, however, someone had already claimed an account with their brand name, although the squatter wasn't actively using the account. 

After contacting Instagram in the fall of 2012 to resolve the issue (and never receiving a response), Alex Kaufman, editor of Ski The East, took a different approach.

On Jan. 7, he posted a screenshot of the occupied account on Ski The East's Facebook page to its 19,000+ loyal followers and wrote, "If you're the one to help us locate the squatter you get a free t-shirt. If you are the squatter, you get a free lift ticket. Let's do this gang. We'd like to get the keys and have the proper amount of PG-13 ski fun." 

Comments immediately began pouring with pledges to help the brand claim the name back.

"Instagram remains far behind Twitter and Facebook (as far as our business interest) since it's not built to deliver direct web traffic, which is a leading business goal on social for us," Kaufman says. "We're a very small team and can only dedicate limited resources to social, so very much not trying to be everywhere. That said, now that it's so ubiquitous, it would be nice to be able to be where our peeps are at, even if only for show or future technology evolution." 

Kaufman then emailed Instagram again, with a link to the Facebook photo thread, and immediately got a positive reply—Instagram then switched over the @SkitheEast user name back to him. "The move to try to crowdsource the solution was more of a way to engage our fans with something fun that I figured had a small chance of success," Kaufman says, but nonetheless, it worked. 

If someone's already snatched up your business name (a problem PR News dealt with on both its LinkedIn company page and on Twitter), having a copyright for your brand will make the reclaiming process easier, but most social networks offer solutions for brands, regardless of copyright. 

Here are site-specific resources to reclaim your name:  

Follow Bill Miltenberg: @bmiltenberg