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Internet-jackers reign supreme in cyber space

By | May 25th 2010

By Larry Madowo

In today’s online world, brands are increasingly getting the wolf treatment. But to understand that, we need to go back three weeks ago.

While minding my own business on micro-blogging site Twitter, the account @CapitalFmKenya, which everyone believed to belong to the radio station posted an update (called a tweet) which was the exact same opening line on a story in that morning’s paper. Shortly after, yet another tweet followed the initial one.

Concerned at the obvious lack of professional journalistic attribution and ethics, I raised the issue with the account in a reply tweet.

But what followed was a tirade of personal attacks from @CapitalFMKenya without once admitting that the tweets were in fact lifted from the papers and not attributed.

The little disagreement spilled over into the wider Kenyan Twitter space with most respondents siding with me. It went on to become a subject of blog posts on the web, and elicited a response from the Capital FM when I reached out to them.

"Our official Twitter page is @CapitalFM_Kenya and we have reported the other one for abuse," Group Editorial Director Michael Mumo wrote in an email to me.

Bigger following

Surprisingly, the impostor @CapitalfmKenya account has almost 2,000 followers on Twitter, while the real account has just about 200 followers. But the tale doesn’t end there.

The person behind the account went on to form two impersonation accounts for me. But mine is on the smaller scale. There are fake accounts for most personalities in the limelight on the two popular social networking sites Facebook and Twitter.

President Kibaki, Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua, radio presenter Caroline Mutoko and funny man Daniel Ndambuki aka Churchill are just a few. For a while, KTN’s own Twitter account @KTNKenya was held by a cyber squatter until the station successfully reclaimed it.

In fact, this is an increasing occurrence on the web. A term has even been coined for it; ‘brandjacking.’

"The aim of some people who do brandjacking is to tarnish the name of the company or individual while others do it to ride on the good name or fame," says Kennedy Kachwanya, cofounder of Maduqa.com.

In Capital’s case, anecdotal evidence suggests the individual is trying to use the station’s identity to promote a new website.

Steve Biko Wafula of Sokodirectory.com notes that the fake accounts seem to do better than the company’s official ones, which has an element of commitment.

‘This poses a serious threat to brand growth, client management, product launch and gives access to your competitors to outdo you,’ he says.

Companies are advised to be proactive when it comes to online branding or presence. While it is a powerful tool for both marketing and feedback, it can also be a weapon for mass destruction. Michael Cohn, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of CompuKol Communications in the US agrees.

‘It used to be that businesses only had to worry about what was being said about them and their business on television, or in the newspapers. Now that the Internet is upon us, thousands of platforms have been opened up that can potentially speak about your company,’ he writes in a blog post.

Kahenya Kamunyu, the CEO of VIRN Instruments, who also runs a robust social media business, says: "Companies need to understand that the social media is the new online experience and they need to have a strategy that encapsulates the social media experience."

As brandjacking, cyber squatting and online identity theft become more and more widespread, only the toughest will survive.

"The online accounts in social media should never be neglected. Most companies venture into social media and leave their accounts dormant. Any cheeky person would want to fill the void or gap," advises Kachwanya.

Experts say social media has become a way of doing business and firms who want to navigate the unruly territory should be prepared for it. An online or social media department with the necessary technical expertise is increasingly necessary.

Promote discussions

If all else fails, outsource the service. Already, Kenyan companies like Safaricom, Bata Kenya, Kenya Airways, Orange Kenya, Kenya Data Networks, most media houses, Orange and Marketing Africa have significant online and social media footprints.

Cohn recommends that by continually promoting discussions and answering questions, leaving comments, posting blog articles, and supplying fresh links to news stories, you are demonstrating that you are an expert in your particular niche, and that other people can feel comfortable coming to you for information.

There is some legalese involved as well to pull off the perfect social media takeover: "The company should clearly state their terms and conditions. At the same time they too should be careful and ensure they observe the terms and conditions of the different social networks they are trying to use,’ adds Kachwanya.

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