guest posts, reputation management

What Happens When Your Nonprofit is “Brandjacked?” Guest Post by Steve Drake of Trees For Troops

11 Comments 04 January 2010


In early November, the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation (CSF) (which my association management company manages) accidentally discovered an industry competitor had created a copycat ripoff of our TweetUp4Troops effort to generate support for the Foundation’s Trees for Troops program.

The Background:

The Christmas SPIRIT Foundation, the 501(c)(3) charitable branch of the National Christmas Tree Association, advances the spirit of Christmas for kids, families and the environment.  For four years, the Foundation — with in-kind support from FedEx Freight — has implemented a hugely successful Trees for Troops program which touches the lives of military families by providing them a free, farm-grown Christmas tree.  The majority of trees go to troops with someone stationed overseas during the holidays. In its first four years, the Foundation has reached 50,082 military families around the world.  We trademarked Trees for Troops to protect the name. In 2007, we added Trees for Troops Weekends during which consumers could purchase a farm-grown tree and donate it to the Trees for Troops program.  (In three years, about 11,000 consumers have been involved in this effort.)

To engage more consumers in the program and to generate financial support for Trees for Troops, the Foundation created and organized TweetUp4Troops events to be held during Veterans Day Week (Nov 7-14). As part of the campaign, the Foundation created a TweetUp4Troops group site, web site and Twitter handle.

The Scam

At the beginning of November, a Foundation staffer accidentally typed in www.Tweetupfortroops.org and discovered that an artificial tree company had registered this domain name and directed people to its commercial Web site that is purely sales, a giant advertisement for artificial Christmas trees. The site’s creator has NOTHING to do with the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation and does NOTHING to support the Trees for Troops program.

The Christmas SPIRIT Foundation sees the fake tree industry’s action as a rouse designed to “capture and divert” people who support (or want to support) the Foundation and its Trees for Troops program. We don’t know how many potential sponsors accidentally typed “for” rather than “4” and got the fake page rather than the real TweetUp4Troops site.

The Foundation was stunned that a company/industry would stoop so low as to try to deceive donors interested in supporting U.S. military families.

The first thing we did was check with legal regarding sending a cease and desist letter. (However, because of the crush of implementation for Trees for Troops and TweetUp4Troops, we did not send the letter.) We reached out to the Twitter community to seek advice on how to respond.  I wrote this blog post asking social media community to give me feedback and advice.  We were overwhelmed with the fabulous response from our social media community!

Following the community’s advice, the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation issued a news release.  In addition to sending it to the legacy media, we tweeted it to our social media community on Twitter and Facebook. Within minutes the word was spreading to hundreds, then thousands of people interested in social media, cause marketing, associations and non profits. Some re-tweeted. Others posted blogs about this case. Based on a quick analysis, the message was tweeted to more than 600,000 followers within 24 hours.

Follow-Up Questions and Answers

Q: Has there been an effect on donations positively or negatively? Can you compare or quantify that?
Since TweetUp4Troops is a new initiative, we have no baseline thus no real numbers or way to measure impact on results. The Foundation (and NCTA) has commissioned Harris Interactive to conduct a post-season consumer tracking poll annually.  We will have those results in mid-January.

Q: What lessons have you learned about brand management?
Monitor your brand across multiple channels. This means: implement regular monitoring of your brand to find anyone trying to hijack it. (Remember, we discovered the TweetUp4Troops brandjacking accidentally!) Use social media platforms to help your cause if it is hijacked. Get legal “protection” of your brand through copyright and trade mark/service mark registrations. Register multiple domain names and Social Media accounts.  You cannot consider all possibilities but look at as many as possible.

This has influenced our thinking for the 2010 program! As a result of both the brandjacking and lessons we learned from talking with the folks at Tweetsgiving, we’re likely to implement the 2010 program through our “master” (and legally protected) Trees for Troops sites. We are likely to move to legally register the name so we have greater protection in event of new attempts at brandjacking.

About Steve Drake

Steve Drake is president/owner of Drake & Company, an accredited association management company serving as headquarters and staff of 10 nonprofit organizations.  Drake’s expertise in cause marketing programs includes serving as the CEO of the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation and its award-winning Trees for Troops program.

For more information about Trees For Troops: read this November 2009 Ad Age column
Steve Drake on base with the Marines

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  • Debra, thank you for such a thought provoking post. This doesn’t just apply to non profits of course. Everyone should make sure their brand name is protected on all social media vehicles. Time to do a search, buy all the domain names of our brand and protect ourselves. So sad. Thanks for the heads up.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Hi Esther – glad to see you here! It’s Steve’s post, of course, and but I also think the key lessons are relevant for all kinds of businesses. Thanks for making that important point.

    [Reply]

  • Debra, thank you for such a thought provoking post. This doesn’t just apply to non profits of course. Everyone should make sure their brand name is protected on all social media vehicles. Time to do a search, buy all the domain names of our brand and protect ourselves. So sad. Thanks for the heads up.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Hi Esther – glad to see you here! It’s Steve’s post, of course, and but I also think the key lessons are relevant for all kinds of businesses. Thanks for making that important point.

    [Reply]

  • Steve,

    I remember we spoke about this on the phone. Did you ever try the redirect approach using a bitly link?

    John

    [Reply]

  • Steve,

    I remember we spoke about this on the phone. Did you ever try the redirect approach using a bitly link?

    John

    [Reply]

  • Hi John.

    No, I didn’t think about using a bitly link as a redirect … how would we do it? This could be helpful for others who face a similar situation.

    Steve

    [Reply]

  • Hi John.

    No, I didn’t think about using a bitly link as a redirect … how would we do it? This could be helpful for others who face a similar situation.

    Steve

    [Reply]

  • Anonymous

    This has influenced our thinking for the 2010 program! I think it was only a matter of time for someone to come out with a service like Brands in Public and as a pure aggregation tool. Aside from the brand hijacking that you covered so well in the post, I think it only gives brands more ammo to engage with users

    reputation management

    [Reply]

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About

Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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