SocialNetworkingCollageLike clockwork, every couple of weeks I receive an email from a panicked nonprofit or university asking how they should handle a situation where someone has squatted their URL/username on a social networking site. Most often it is YouTube and/or Twitter. Sometimes these squatters actually have the audacity to ask for money. Here’s my advice on how to handle such situations and how to prevent them from happening in the future:

1) Don’t pay them any money unless having consistent URLs/usernames is very important to your social media strategy. Consistency in URLs is a great thing for branding, but increasingly becoming impossible on sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and MySpace.You might have to come up with something different. For example, the Latin America Working Group’s website is www.lawg.org. They were hoping to reserve twitter.com/lawg, myspace.com/lawg, and youtube.com/lawg, but they were already taken. Instead they went with twitter.com/lawgaction, myspace.com/lawgaction, and youtube.com/lawgaction. In their case, folks were not squatting the “lawg” username, rather other individuals grabbed the URLs/username first.

2) Don’t waste your time thinking about suing them. Most squatters create the accounts and then abandon them until a nonprofit gets around to wanting the account (which is usually years later). Unless they are using the accounts to slander your nonprofit, just let it go. I have had zero success over the last few years getting YouTube, MySpace, Facebook or Twitter to release inactive, squatted accounts. I have heard of a few rare cases where they will shut down squatted accounts that are slandering a nonprofit, university, or business.

3) Protect your brand. Be proactive and grab your URL/username of choice on up and coming social media sites. Create a Word document with usernames and login information of all your accounts and add to it as time goes on. At the very least add your logo and your Website link to these new accounts. Below is a list of accounts where I have reserved the “nonprofitorgs” username [when possible]. I would suggest you take a few hours and do the same for your nonprofit. As a best practice, set up a email account just for social media sites and do not create the accounts  under a particular staff’s email address. At some point that staff person will leave, and worst case scenario, they leave disgruntled and take your social networking profiles with them.

1) Twitter :: twitter.com/nonprofitorgs

2) YouTube :: youtube.com/nonprofitorgs

3) Facebook :: facebook.com/nonprofitorgs

4) MySpace :: myspace.com/nonprofitorganizations

5) StumbleUpon :: nonprofitorgs.stumbleupon.com

6) Delicious :: delicious.com/nonprofitorgs

7) Digg :: digg.com/users/nonprofitorgs

Eight) FriendFeed :: friendfeed.com/nonprofitorgs

9) Bebo :: bebo.com/nonprofitorgs

10) Hi5 :: nonprofitorganizations.hi5.com

11) Flickr :: flickr.com/groups/nonprofitorganizations

12) WordPress :: nonprofitorgs.wordpress.com

13) TextMarks :: textmarks.com/nonprofitorgs

14) UStream.tv :: ustream.tv/nonprofitorgs

15) Vimeo :: vimeo.com/nonprofitorgs

16) Posterous :: nonprofitorgs.posterous.com

17) Tinker :: tinker.com/nonprofitorgs

18) BrightKite :: brightkite.com/people/nonprofitorgs

19) Identi.ca :: identi.ca/nonprofitorgs

20) Seesmic :: seesmic.tv/nonprofitorgs

21) Reddit :: reddit.com/user/nonprofitorgs

22) Mixx :: mixx.com/users/nonprofitorgs

23) MocoSpace :: mocospace.com/nonprofitorgs

24) FourSquare :: foursquare.com/user/nonprofitorgs

25) Google Buzz :: nonprofitorgs@gmail.com

Are there any others that I am missing? If you think so, please let me know by posting a comment below. Thanks!

HOW TO: Protect Your Nonprofit from Social Media Squatters