Don’t Be Surprised By Imposters

They say imitation is the best form of flattery. Yeah, uhh…no it isn’t. It’s actually the best form of personal brand impersonation.

Last week, I met with a fellow public relations educator exploring research opportunities to collaboratively write about issues in communication related to diversity, leadership and innovation. We’d never met before so he did what any decent, well-meaning, respectable person would do in today’s age – he Googled me. From there, he found my Twitter profile then let me know he followed me. I went to Twitter to find him and noticed his profile was not listed among my followers. That gave me a hunch to search for my Twitter profile. I found my profile (@aerialellis) then scrolled down the search page and discovered @ellisrpb, a profile with my name, photo, bio and location that does not belong to me.

I was surprised and I shouldn’t have been. Recently, Twitter revamped their policies on how online abuse is reported due to the increases in reports of impersonation, imposters, offensive tweets and harassment. (source: Washington Post)

Bad Twitter

In my case, the imposter had tweets and retweets from and to my followers but the content didn’t reflect my authentic voice. Now, I’m no celebrity or politician among the highly targeted victims of imposter accounts but I am a business owner and an educator. I can’t afford to have my voice mistaken.

I’ve used Google Alerts from the moment the feature was launched and this false page never made it to my inbox. I’ve sent nearly 30,000 tweets since joining in 2008 but have never received a DM or tweet from a follower asking “is this really you?” I’ve monitored client accounts and moderated Twitter chats but never noticed someone else portraying me.

I immediately went to Twitter’s support page for reporting phony accounts. The process was very easy and the fake Aerial was removed in less than 24 hours.

A few things to note to avoid personal brand impersonation via social media:

Take action immediately. Why wait? Find out how to remove the fraudulent page and follow the necessary steps. You may have to wait on a response while they investigate everything but don’t give up. Stay on the case.

Monitor your name. Be on the lookout for online mentions of your name. Set up an alert through Google or other free services that will notify you when you name appears online. Though I can’t recall a time the fake Aerial appeared in my alerts, they are a safeguard for knowing what’s out there. Periodically, you should do a manual online search for your name to see if anything malicious pops up. This is how I found the fake Aerial.

Keep security tight. When you switch phones and computers, clear out your passwords. When you create passwords, make them strong with a mix of letters, numbers and symbols. Completely log off social media sites instead of only closing the browser.

Don’t be surprised by an imposter account. It happens. Your reputation can be negatively impacted by an imposter but don’t make it easy for them.

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