In the technology world, there’s a saying: no one knows you’re a dog on the Internet.
We use this saying in security to make the point that the Internet has a high degree of anonymity. While the question of whether that level of anonymity is good or bad is for another discussion, another aspect is important for people focused on branding and image online.
On the Internet, it’s hard to be sure that a site or social media channel really is who it claims to be.
If you want to make sure your online identity is verifiable, consider the following:
- Register key domains and report fake accounts to fight scammers seeking to imitate you online proactively.
- Organize official accounts, link them together, and pursue verification badges to make your real web presence easy to find and confirm.
- Build credibility through accurate info, consistent branding, professionalism, security features like digital signatures, and leveraging your community to vouch for you.
It’s a problem we’re all familiar with. In the early days of the Internet, you had the scramble for domain names and the issue of “cybersquatting” when someone would secure the domain name that a recognized brand wanted or needed. And as social media channels have come online, we’ve seen the problem repeatedly.
But this is more than a problem at the start of the web or with new social media channels. Fake sites and social media channels are an ongoing problem for many companies. Some sites like eBay constantly battle fake sites set up to defraud their customers and get them to surrender critical information by abusing their customers' trust in that company.
Even if you’re not a high-value target like eBay or a bank, you can still face challenges with people finding the sites and channels that are actually yours. Even without malice, competitors can benefit from your customers' confusion in finding and verifying your sites.
How can individuals and companies verify their online identities? This article will explore methods to:
- Fight scammers by proactively registering domains and reporting fake accounts.
- Organize official accounts and keep them linked together.
- Verify social media channels through validation programs.
- Fight Scammers by Registering Domains and Reporting Fake Accounts
- Keep Your Official Channels Linked and Organized
- Verify Your Social Media Channels
Fight Scammers by Registering Domains and Reporting Fake Accounts
One approach to resolving these problems is to go after cybersquatters and look-alike sites and channels. This is a valid approach, but it’s a slow and costly one. It’s also not guaranteed success.
For instance, when dealing with a look-alike site hosted in another country, you may find the hosting company and legal authorities there have no interest in helping you.
If this is about stealing and re-publishing your personal information on other channels, Google offers steps to remove this data from search results, so keep that in mind as well.
In some cases, they won’t even respond. And the effectiveness of this approach can be mixed. For aggressively scammed sites, going after fake sites is an ongoing game of “whack-a-mole.”
That’s not to say you should take this approach. But it is to say that you should look first at another approach and consider takedown actions as a complement to that.
Here are some vital steps to monitor and report fake accounts:
- Register key domains related to your brand to prevent cybersquatting
- Actively monitor for fake accounts, sites, and apps impersonating you
- Report fakes to social media platforms, registrars, and web hosts to get them removed
- Takedown efforts are ongoing - stay vigilant as new fakes continually appear
- For stolen personal content, use Google's tools to remove it from search results. Here's a video showing how to do it:
Keep Your Official Channels Linked and Organized
Make it easy for your audience to verify and find your official presence online. Keep the social media and web channels associated with your brand linked together for easy discovery.
The best approach to this problem is to help your customers establish a chain of trust in your online presence by giving them a single, authoritative, trustworthy resource on your website to consult and find your official online presence.
The goal of that page is two-fold:
- Consolidating all your marketing channels (which will also verify their authenticity and help them rank for your brand name)
- Creating trust-driven journeys through your site: Your potential customers will be able to verify your online identity, check your social profiles, and feel more reassured that yours is a trusted business. This will likely result in more time spent on your site and more leads.
With the latter goal, ensure this page offers ways to continue buying journeys through your site. Add your social proof, primary and secondary CTAs, etc. Using AI technology. You can also set up intelligent CTAs that will provide personalized help to your customers when needed.
An additional benefit to this resource page is that it can enable you to organize your online presence more officially. Your potential customers will need at least 5 impressions of your brand to remember it. Having your multiple channels organized will help you achieve those impressions more easily.
It is also a good idea to link to your significant channels sitewide (i.e., from the footer). This will help them rank higher for your brand name in Google as well as make them easier to find on the site:
Here are some tips to consolidate your channels:
- Create a trusted page on your site to reduce and link all official accounts
- Linking accounts together helps customers easily verify authenticity
- Cross-promote accounts in bios/profiles to aid discovery across channels
- Consistent linking builds brand impressions and helps social profiles rank
- Organize accounts officially on your site to present a unified brand presence
- Link major channels in the website footer to boost discoverability
- Consolidated profiles reinforce legitimacy and give a single source of truth
Verify Your Social Media Channels
Major social media channels have verification processes in place, allowing you to maintain strong ownership of your brand name:
- After subscribing to Meta Verified, Facebook verifies your official channels, provided you meet the requirements. For a private profile verification, your profile must include your full name (you must provide a government-issued ID that matches the name on your profile) and a profile picture that includes your face. You can verify your business on Facebook from within the Business Manager’s Security Center. You must have a legal business entity (and the corresponding documentation) to verify your business on Facebook.
- Instagram provides verification options for public figures and brands. You can request to be verified from your accounts Settings and privacy section.
- Twitter offers a paid verification option within its Twitter Blue subscription. Twitter Blue is $8/month on the web and $11/month for those who sign up on iOS.
- The Pinterest verification program is currently on hold, and it is not accepting new applications. You can claim your website to ensure your followers can tell it is your official Pinterest channel. You can also apply to become a verified merchant on Pinterest, which will add a blue checkmark on your profile and Pins, letting people on Pinterest know you’ve been vetted.
- TikTok offers verification of private accounts as well as for businesses. You cannot apply for your personal account verification. TikTok will contact you if they think you are a good candidate. Companies can be verified through business verification documentation. These documents vary from country to country. Business verification is not yet supported in the United States.
- A LinkedIn profile can be verified by providing an ID (personal profiles) or work email (for “select” companies).
Online identity is one of the areas where Internet security lags behind what’s needed. Anyone who manages a major site like eBay can attest to this situation's ongoing headaches.
Even if you’re not a major site like this though, being proactive and building an authoritative, trustworthy page where people can verify your online channels makes good sense. Hari Ravichandran stated that being proactive means preventing identity theft or making it much easier to handle its consequences.
By educating your customers and visitors on where to go and how to do this early, you train them and instill in them practices that will serve them and you well should you later find people attempting to capitalize on the weaknesses around online identity to your detriment. An ounce of prevention here can be very helpful in the future.