Twitter proves effective ad tool

For the London Free Press - December 7, 2009 Read this on Canoe

NETWORKING: Companies should be proactive in securing their Twitter handle

Twitter has emerged as a powerful and inexpensive advertising alternative for many companies.

Some businesses have found to their chagrin, however, that others have already taken their name for a Twitter or other social networking account.

There are a plethora of sites on the web, such as flickr and YouTube, that allow users to obtain accounts and publish various things.

Companies that use these tools include Ford, for example, which has more than 19,000 Twitter followers. This free method of advertising can prove extremely effective. When users opt in to receive these messages, advertisers have a captive audience.

Coca-Cola has experienced similar success. It has accumulated almost 12,000 Twitter followers who receive messages on a wide variety of Coke-related topics ranging from efforts to increase recycling to a link to a Coca-Cola themed wedding. This advertising increases brand awareness and loyalty.

A recent article in Advertising Age magazine pointed out that some companies have not been as proactive in securing their Twitter domain name.

For instance, Wendy's, the fast-food restaurant chain, had their name registered by another user. They were forced to use "TheRealWendys" as their Twitter name. This makes it more difficult for users to find their Twitter page and has resulted in their having fewer than 1,000 followers.

Another concern for businesses is imposters impersonating the company and sending out undesirable messages.

Hyundai, the Korean based car-maker, fell victim to a "Twitter squatter" recently who posted links to woman posed in a provocative manner under the Hyundai handle.

This can cause considerable embarrassment for a company being linked to messages it is not responsible for.

Twitter executives have recognized this problem and are taking steps to remedy the problem.

Twitter has, for example, awarded "verified status" to certain high-profile users, such as celebrities and athletes.

So when a user logs on to Ashton Kutcher's Twitter account, they find a verified account check mark that indicates the user is who they purport to be.

This confirmation is possible through a conversation with the individual confirming their identity and that they in fact are the owner of the Twitter account.

Businesses have been pushing for a similar system to be implemented for corporations.

As the popularity of Twitter continues to increase, brands will feel increasing pressure to have a Twitter presence. The message for businesses is to try to obtain their names as user names in as many online social media or publishing sites as they can that might possibly be relevant to their business -- or that someone else might obtain their name just to wreak havoc.

For companies that have failed to secure their Twitter handle, it may be too late. Many names have already been registered and could be occupied by squatters.

The challenge is to recognize what may be the next popular social networking site and to register that name as quickly as possible.

To make it easier, websites are available to search hundreds of sites in different categories all at once, such as knowem (www.knowem.com ) and namechk ( www.namechk.com).