There’s no doubt that a brand’s name is its lifeline, but what happens when your brand’s name is being used by someone else?

This is the reality that a lot of marketers are facing as they try and save their brands’ reputations from mystery impersonators on Twitter, who are now being referred to as “squatters.” Advertising Age brings the issue to light in this recent article. As a public site, anyone can join Twitter under any name they choose if it isn’t already taken. Just as celebrities have to constantly verify their Twitter and Facebook accounts with words like “official” and “real” to separate themselves from imposters, businesses may have to start doing the same. Alarmingly, even big name brands such as Hyundai, Volkswagen, General Motors, General Electric, Comcast, Walt Disney, and Kellogg Co., have all been beaten to the punch on Twitter and have had to settle for second-choice names or no name at all. Instead of @volkswagen and @vw, Volkswagen uses the handle @vwcares, as the first two names are already taken. Hyundai has settled for @HyundaiNews because their first choice @Hyundai is also taken by Twitter squatters.

The majority of these imposters are pretty easy to point out when they haven’t updated for a while or write things totally unrelated to the company. When doing my own research, I found that a great deal of these squatters appeared to have created an account under these brands’ names and then never updated them again. Others, such as the squatter for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, are a little harder to discriminate. This imposter, using the name @Pfizer, frequently tweets company news and information. There’s not much the company can do, as the imposter is completely unknown, but they are constantly keeping an eye out for anything slanderous or inaccurate. Luckily, nothing of the sort has been posted yet…”yet” being the operative word.

The biggest questions here are how this issue should be handled and who should take responsibility.  Is Twitter the responsible party in this? They’ve given Ashton Kutcher and Oprah verified accounts, so why not marketers? The Home Depot actually took it upon themselves to get a handle on their handle, @HomeDepot, which was previously in control by someone who wasn’t even using it.  It took an entire year, but after alerting Twitter to this problem, Twitter finally came through and gave them full control of their @HomeDepot name. In the meantime, they settled with @TheHomeDepot. Other brands are refusing to join Twitter altogether until the handle they want becomes available to them. With more and more businesses jumping onboard the Twitter bandwagon, though, this is surely a topic that will continue to see a lot of attention in the future. What do you think? Do marketers have the right to see that their brand’s name is preserved even on a public site such as Twitter?