Worried about being behind the 8-ball? You are in good company

Map pins on a map

On the plus side, if you are worrying about losing out on staking your claim to your perfect online brand territory/territories, you are in some good company.

It isn’t always the little people (SMB’s) who are behind the 8-ball.

Consider the cases of John Galliano, Balenciaga and a couple of their closest friends/competitors…

It can be hard to track down exact dates and there seem to be regional delays in roll outs (whether because the functionality hasn’t hit the server your profile/page is on or whatever), but roughly speaking in June 2009, Facebook commenced allowing any page with over 1000 fans the ability to create a vanity URL, e.g. facebook.com/chanel, facebook.com/gucci, facebook.com/dior, facebook.com/givenchy, facebook.com/dvf facebook.com/ysl and facebook.com/hermes

About a month later, that minimum number of fans was reduced to 25 fans. Of course, if you had partnered up with Facebook early on, you had the advantage of being able to reserve your vanity URL at the very initial stages of this new feature.

Either way, from ~June 2009 to ~September 2009, provided you had a page with +1000 users, down to provided you had a page with +25 users, you could reserve your key brand term as your vanity URL.

In September 2009, that ability was rolled out to users.

Let me get this straight: you have instant name recognition, archetypal brand terms, 4 months to act and you did…nothing/nada/zip/sfa?

With instant brand name recognition and a sophisticate and high level understanding of and experience in marketing once brand, one wonders why the following vanity URLs were never reserved before the land grab was opened up to every Tom, Ethan Lowe and  David Leung to reserve them (accessed 10 July 2011):

Please understand -that this is not David, Ethan or 武欄堂’s fault – they had the right to and ability to choose those names and they did. Like someone at a swinger’s party, they were just picking keys out of the bowl and they got super lucky.

And who are we to argue that they don’t have the right to reserve a name that is open and available to being reserved?

I know of people with pets called Chanel and nicknames like Versace – who are we to say they have less right to nab those names than Chanel and Versace the luxury goods conglomerates/houses? Welcome to managing your identity, both personal and business, in the online/digital age.

It’s entirely possible that David is affectionately known as Lanvin to his 18 friends; that Ethan has a cat called Balenciaga (although I would doubt he has the good taste to, given his favourite show is NCIS); and that 武欄堂 is an anglophile fashionista who thinks MaisonMartinMargiela is alot easier to pronounce than 武欄堂). It’s also entirely possible that, like me, they are lovers of these design houses who want to reflect and display that any way they can.

What happens next is in the hands of the Facebook gods

Facebook do have guidelines around setting up usernames:

Usernames were created to make it easier for Facebook users to identify their profile and share with others. Facebook encourages users to consider the following when creating a username:

  • Your username should be as close as possible to your true name (e.g., Jsmith or John.Smith). Names such as CoachJohn, BlondeJane, etc. don’t clearly identify you as well as your true name.
  • Usernames can only contain alphanumeric characters (A-Z, 0-9) or a period (“.”).
  • Choose a username you will be happy with for the long term. Usernames are not transferable.
  • Your username must adhere to Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

They also reserve the right the remove usernames, so it is possible that Lanvin, Balenciaga and MaisonMartinMargiela’s days are numbered as soon as someone who is an authorized representative for a public figure, brand or business and/or hold the rights to a trademarked name reports the infringing names.

If you have all the legal rights and documentation Facebook require, you do have the right to report an infringing username. Of course, it may take time for Facebook to follow due process with the view to eventually removing the username and then advising you if it is possible for you to claim that username.

Poor you.

Welcome to a first world problem suffered by very ,very few companies and brands in the world: you are the top of the food chain in terms of aspirational marketing.

This means everyone wants to be you/wear you/love you and share their love for you. If you go to sleep at the wheel, your fans can and will actively reserve your brand terms to display and reflect that love. Yes it’s inconvenient and it’s a hard life, but very few people/businesses get to live it.

At the end of the day, let’s not forget that you had the time and the resources to head this off before it became a problem, only you didn’t.

For my part, I am reserving my sympathy for the other Cristobel Balenciagas and John Gallianos of the world, and the kids whose parents have named them Versace, Chanel and Armani…

While big business was sleeping…

So, rule number one is: if you snooze and/or you don’t have an online marketing professional scanning the landscape and taking up/reserving real-estate on in the right capabilities, on appropriate channels…you lose.

Or if you don’t lose, at any rate you will be highly and deservedly inconvenienced.

[Taps screen: John Galliano – we should talk, I am open to contra deals for clothing as long as you design for US 12s/AU 14s and you need some frickin help of the kind that someone like me can give. As a worshipper at your alter and lover of your clothes, it makes my soul die a little inside seeing your online presence like this, a little like how I assume your soul might die every time you see an item of clothing which involves either velour or velcro]

I have a couple of theories about the what/whys and hows but, at the end of the day, this is why there are jobs in online marketing for people like me.

Online is the great equaliser

Admittedly the population of haves-ville and have-nots-ville and this-is-what-we-were-able-to-get-insteads-ville do make for some interesting suppositions. They will perhaps serve to articulate the limitations of their current online branding model(s) and methodologies.

It may also serve to assist you in identifying where you, as an SMB, can do it better and more effectively than some of the archetypes of big(ger) business.

Why did some of them get it so right and some have thus far got it so wrong?

Going back to my original list of the haves:

The have-nots:

Let’s not forget some of the population in the township of this-is-what-we-were-able-to-get-instead:

It’s not a question of resources and synergies

Just looking at an abbreviated landscape of these brands to see what is happening at a higher level and how it is, or is not, permeating through to the lower echelons of brands.

From my reading of The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever (See all Business & Investing Books), scanning of the LVMH and Gucci Group sites and reading of history and references for design houses wikipedia entries (yes, that bit was lazy but at least the references get me to some of the source documents), it seems the following would appear to indicate the connections between some of these houses:

Anyway we care to look at it, these are big(ger) business with access to resources internally and possibly also externally, through their connection with large conglomerates and/or the agencies that help them curate and market their brands.

They are organisations the like of which a startup creative/fashion SMB might dream of becoming one day in the distant future, if they are really really lucky.

And yet the execution of their online presence by some members of these elite echelon(s) of business is, in some respects, considerably flawed.

Consider Balenciaga

While Balenciaga, Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) are owned by the same conglomerate, PPR > Gucci Group, one could assume there is no knowledge sharing or mentoring to ensure all parties of the conglomerate have an equivalent level of sophistication and representation in terms of their online presence.

Do we assume that no one talks around the water cooler? Because the establishment of a proprietary branded online presence in the minutiae, down to reserving core brand term(s) when they were able, to seems to have passed Balenciaga by, to put in kindly.

Interestingly, WWD reported on Monday that there were changes afoot in the Balenciaga camp. Changes that were being made in coordination with a relaunch of the Balenciaga website:

In tandem with the Web site launch, Balenciaga plans to increase its Twitter activity and has wrested control of a Facebook page created by an unknown person that amassed more than 250,000 fans. Like the site, the page is to be image-driven.

(WWD Balenciaga Beefs up Website, Accessed 13 July 2011)

Nature and social media share one thing in common: they both abhore a vaccuum

In spite of the late attempt to wrest control, one still has to ask in terms of a page: what were they doing “back in the day” that meant they didn’t set up an official page?

Consider the fact that Balenciaga have access to a multitude of promotional opportunities that whoever created the page was unlikely to, why didn’t they already have a competing page presence on Facebook?

A page presence which could have had an official username. It’s not like they couldn’t have found 25 likers internally – Balenciaga have 109 employees on LinkedIn to hit up before they even needed to put the call out to PPR, which has 274 employees on LinkedIn. Assuming those employees know how to set up a profile for themselves on LinkedIn, chances are they are also on Facebook

They haven’t even bothered to pull a Lanvin, so to speak, in an attempt to recapture their terms by reserving:

  • BalenciagaOfficial, or
  • Balenciaga.Ghesquiere (if they intend to tie a particular online presence to the designer of the time)
You have to go backwards to go forwards?

In 2006/2007, Nicolas Ghesquiere’s designs for Balenciaga were really hitting their stride in terms of a reinvigoration of the house, recognition and celebrity endorsement (well that’s when I fell in love with them, anyway) and their handbag designs were about to permeate mass consciousness as part of the It Bag Phenomenon. So their name had recognition and fans the world over.

With that in mind, any official Facebook page for the brand could have leveraged every single part of their already sophisticated marketing, communications and advertising activities and, it is likely, totally owned whatever amateur page activity was happening on the site.

So they could have created a competing page in parallel, with official branding and an official username…but they didn’t.

Instead Balenciaga let the unofficial one grow and “wrested control of it back” – taking in house any issues caused by whatever content was posted onto that page before their ownership.

Remember the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission against Allergy Pathway Pty Ltd case mentioned in Facebook: but suck which and see? where misleading representation included testimonials written by customers on the company’s Facebook page?

Why would you want to take on any potential liability arising from the poor page and content management practices of any prior owner? It is a significant risk, even if Balenciaga may have pockets deep enough to ameliorate the potential cost of risk.

You won the page, but there’s still the username battle to fight

And guess what – that offical page, now under the control of Balenciaga…still doesn’t have a username.

Let’s pretend we are Balenciaga and stand in front of a mirror and sternly remind ourselves that:

  1. there’s no cost to reserve this piece of real-estate with whatever iconic brand term you (now have left to) choose, and
  2. it’s not like you don’t have the numbers of likers, and
  3. you on the 6th July 2011 you managed to post a formal invite onto your own official Facebook page, and
  4. you didn’t at any point claim a vanity URL?

Because…you’re snoozing at the wheel?

Assuming you want to wrest control of the username as you did for the page?

You (yes, Balenciaga, I am talking to you) do have the right to report an infringing username. Of course, it may take time for Facebook to follow due process to remove the username and then advise you if it is possible for you to claim that username.

You can only have one username per page, but let’s consider an interim measure while you wait for the mills of Facebook and due process to grind:

  • Investigate and claim a username that you can for your current page
  • Report the infringements of username(s) and jump through all the hoops Facebook requires
  • Set up another page(s), get 25 internal likers
  • If/when the infringing username(s) you want become available, ask for one each to be allocated to your matching page(s)

Oh for the love of…(aka Consider John Galliano)

I absolutely love John Galliano’s clothing, even if both his online presences and his behaviour in his personal life/time do put the idiot into the word idiot savant.

On some levels, it is inherently obvious that his design house is doing some serious ground work and paying some serious overheads to reserve “paid for” real-estate in the form of domains.

Look at the list of domains the company owns which they have helpfully identified in their legal disclaimer (as being covered by their legal disclaimer) on JohnGalliano.com:

List of domains covered by the legal disclaimer on JohnGalliano.com

JohnGalliano.com > Legal (accessed 10 July 2011)

Assuming each one of those domains costs the most you would pay through somewhere like crazydomains, then at 33 domains for $12.00 per year, you are looking at an overhead of $396.00 AUD/ annum to hold that real-estate.

That is a big overhead for a SMB to consider, but this big(ger) business has at least one notable absence as you are about to see…now let’s consider the fact that on Facebook:

So…there are 41784 people on Facebook who absolutely love John Galliano to the power of love but no one has put the call out to the 40000+ fans who seem to think that the community page is the official John Galliano page and asked them to like the official page?

Umm…why not? Just a thought but if your the representation of your label at key stockists was in question then surely having a commodity in terms of thousands of connected fans could be capital against the consideration to discontinue stocking your clothes:

Galliano may find his own business more difficult. Selfridges did issue a statement directed at Galliano’s eponymous label: “In light of recent comments made by John Galliano, Selfridges is presently reviewing the future of John Galliano collections in all its stores.

(Guardian UK John Galliano: Is Dior Damaged?, Accessed 10 July 2011)

The positive growth of the community page would surely be the perfect opportunity to develop a communication strategy to migrate some of the community page likers to the official page, no?

It actually gets worse

Much as I love this design house, I shake my head as it does get worse. It really does. Permit me to outline it for you…

In spite of:

  • purchasing and using JohnGalliano.com as the design house’s primary domain
  • the brand of the design house always being referred to as John Galliano (and not John Galliano International)
  • JohnGallianoInternational.com not being one of the oodles of domains the design house has purchased and helpfully listed in the legal disclaimer

No one thought to reserve facebook.com/JohnGalliano in reflection of the key brand terms? No one?  [Note the bold, the colour and the italics – that  is me being a little cranky.]

For the record, as of 11 July 2011 that domain is currently free – no Sally, David or Ethan have staked their claim on it.

So, let’s consider the following:

  • You only need one page with 25 or more likers to reserve a vanity URL on facebook (and it is free)
  • As a company John Galliano currently has 17 employees listed on LinkedIn
  • Assuming those employees know how to set up a profile for themselves on LinkedIn, chances are they are also on Facebook

Therefore, it would be possible if not feasible for this design house to create a page, get 25 people from within their company to Like it and thereby reserve that URL for all time.

Sometimes you have to work hard to be invisible (aka Consider Maison Martin Margiela)

In October 2008, Harper’s Bazaar Australia interviewed Martin Margiela, the man behind Maison Martin Margiela. The title of the piece was The Invisible Man  (p.84-85) – the idea of a fashion house that is 20 years old and whose designer has never given an interview or been photographed stimulated my interest and my imagination. And the avante-garde designs and the quirky personality the design house have cultivated for the brand presence are, quite frankly, wonderful and exciting and fun.

They’ve been around 20 years, have 57 Employees on LinkedIn and managed to secure the following vanity URL for their facebook page: facebook.com/maisonmargiela but alas no one set up another page, found 25 people to like it and reserved facebook.com/maisonmartinmargiela?

Even though that would be the way the company refers to itself in its own domain: www.maisonmartinmargiela.com? This makes me a little sad.

So we can assume give or take, that one of the following things was likely to have happened:

  • A deliberate choice was made by the design house to reserve a name that does not directly translate to their business and domain name
  • They didn’t have an official presence on Facebook in 2009, so missed the opportunity to grab that real-estate when it was first available (odd since they were being talked about in 2008 and had been around for 20 years) and by the time they did come to grabbing that real-estate, someone else had staked their claim
  • A deliberate choice was made by the design house to allow someone else grab a brand terms that directly translates to their business and domain name perhaps as a result of some of the internal issues

[Taps screen: Maison Martin Margiela – you seem like so much fun but you disappointed me badly by not reserving your brandterm 😦 Just so you know, I love you as much as the other two and perhaps a little bit more because you are a favourite naughty child and I have a weakness for your flat leather cross over sandals, russian nesting dolls and general joie de vivre!]

Maison Martin Margiela, in case you haven’t worked my advice out by now:

  • Report the infringements of username and jump through all the hoops Facebook requires
  • Set up another page(s), get 25 internal likers
  • If/when the username(s) you want become available, ask for one each to be allocated to your matching page

Then it is up to you as to how you lead people from one page to another…but I wish you bonne chance!

Things may change

It’s unwise to rely on it happening soon, but Facebook are slowly but surely tightening up some of the controls on pages and groups. They do specifically state that official pages should be created and curated by a representative of the brand as part of their Terms of Pages and they do give you the option to report infringing usernames and reserve the right to remove usernames which are not authentic to the people claiming them.

It remains to be seen whether Facebook ever goes mega proactive and tightens of the belt over vanity URLs, particularly for registered businesses and trademarked terms. For now, I wouldn’t rely on it happening soon and I imagine due process would have to be followed at their end.

Consider the case of facebook.com/PaulSmith – he looks to be an authentic username, how would he be treated if Paul Smith decided his username infringed their trademark?  Or facebook.com/marcjacobs if Marc Jacobs wanted a brand term username for his page?

For the record, at today’s date (11 July) I have sent emails to the Head Offices of both Balenciaga and John Galliano, so they have the opportunity to reserve real-estate before this post is published (Wednesday, 13 July 2011). I have also asked if they would care to comment on the rationale behind the choices they made.

It remains to be seen whether they do reserve this real-estate or answer my questions, but I have:

  • identified the issues and
  • given them the opportunity to do with it what they, and the professionals they are/should be paying to advise and assist them in developing and maintaining their online presence, will with it

Meanwhile, my next post will be on the steps you can take to reserve your territory as a startup creative SMB.

3 Responses to “Worried about being behind the 8-ball? You are in good company”
Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] would/could/should be your perfect user/url/social identity – we’ve already looked at instances where big(ger) businesses have gotten it wrong in this […]

  2. […] of areas where design houses are committing crimes against their online audience and where they are behind the 8-ball in terms of their Facebook presence alone. Sadly, those aren’t the only critiques and case studies I have up my […]

  3. […] possibly more comprehensive, litmus test of luxury brands online presences (ad hoc tests here: [1][2] [3]). Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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