Poor Kanye West. Well actually, rich Kanye West. But poor in the sense that few celebrities take more flak online than the outspoken rapper from Chicago. Surely Kanye brings much of it upon himself with his stage-stealing antics, but his lack of online reputation management can serve as a lesson for brands everywhere.¬†Kanye was victimized by one of the greatest vanity URL squatters of all time after he rudely interrupted Taylor Swift’s 2009 Video Music Awards acceptance speech to say Beyonce (not Swift) had “one of the greatest videos of all time.”

A vanity URL is a branded web address on a social media site, for example facebook.com/hollistercreative or twitter.com/whitehouse. Companies and individuals register vanity URLs as a way to own and manage their name across the web. Occasionally, a squatter will register a vanity URL for nefarious purposes, using the name of another person or a brand. Most often, squatters are looking to make a quick buck by selling the URL to the authentic brand. But sometimes, as in the Kanye case, they have mischief in mind.

The squatter who registered the vanity URL twitter.com/kanyewest had time to attract more than 1 million followers for his Kanye-bashing tweets before the rapper responded with a profanity-laced tirade at Twitter, which promptly removed the account. Most brands don’t have the clout to demand quick action from Twitter. They face the dilemma of paying the squatter’s ransom or ignoring the squatter while Twitter gets around to considering their removal request.

Fear of squatters probably doesn’t keep you up at night, but you could be victimized by an unscrupulous competitor, or lose a social media URL to a business or individual with the same name. For those reasons, we recommend that companies take a proactive approach to this aspect of online reputation management by registering their vanity URLs on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, even if they won’t be using the account. It costs nothing except a little time, although Facebook requires the page to have 25 followers before granting a vanity URL.

If you want to be extra cautious, also consider purchasing your website domain name with additional extensions; e.g., if you have .com, buy .net and .org as well. Of course, new domain extension options keep being added to the 500+ already approved. New this year is .sucks. As of this writing, KanyeWest.sucks is still up for grabs.

Have a marketing challenge? Call Kim Landry at 484-829-0021 or email [email protected].

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