How a .brand can help secure your social links

How a .brand can help secure your social links

social media security mobile phone password passcode

How a .brand can help secure your social links

By Corey Grant,
Senior Advisor – Professional Services, Neustar

In a recent blog, Tony Kirsch wrote about the emergence of short links through the growth of social media, and particularly how this has become an antiquated approach with new tools available for greater customization and branding of the social link experience.

Read Tony’s blog now for some more background.

As mentioned in that article, in order to make their social links a little more recognizable to consumers, most organizations try to find a short domain ‘hack’ that looks something like their brand. For example, Virgin uses virg.in and Best Buy uses bby.me. These links look far better than using someone else’s generic link (such as bit.ly, po.st or ow.ly), but they are still imperfect digital representations of the brand. 

People now apply less scrutiny to links in social media than in other areas of digital. We’re all familiar with the risks of clicking on spam pop-up ads promising miracle weight loss results, and phishing emails from Nigerian princes begging for help moving money around. And for the most part, people are becoming more cautious of these malicious attempts.

But in social media, when domain ‘hacks’ are commonplace and a link appears to come from a brand you follow and trust, how are consumers to know when it’s legitimate? If you saw a link that said www.a.ll.st/ would you click on it or type it in? Maybe not. After all, it looks a little suspicious.  Yet this is the official link shortener used by insurance company Allstate. In social media, URLs are not expected to look like traditional URLs – they’re in a class of their own.

social media security mobile phone apps

Breaching social media security: a case study

During our recent webinar, we discussed how simple it is for bad actors to impersonate a big brand in social media by using these domain representations for malicious purposes.

Here’s an example of what we mean.

Firstly, we showed how you could hypothetically create a Twitter account using a similar name to a big brand, along with their logo.

social media security twitter example

Secondly, we purchased an example domain name that could be crafted to look similar to the original brand. In this example, we chose lmart.me for a cost of USD$7.99. This quickly and easily becomes wa.lmart.me, which looks entirely convincing given what consumers have been conditioned to accept.

social media security domain name example

Finally, we created a hypothetical tweet that looks like something the actual brand would post. This can include popular hashtags (in this case #holiday and #toys) to broaden the audience. Then the link is simply pointed to a malicious site designed to capture data that separates people from their money – using the chosen URL shortener.

That’s it. It’s scarily simple and frankly, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often.social media security example tweet

social media security hacker anonymous mask

Security breaches and consumer trust

It’s an unfortunate reality that we live in an age where impersonation and data theft are commonplace. The recent Equifax data breach was a major headline in 2017, and rightly so, but for those who work in cyber security it was neither new nor surprising.

In 2016, reported losses included over 1.8 billion records obtained through a variety of nefarious purposes, such as malware, ransomware, phishing, and keyloggers. These are terms that far too many of us are now familiar with.

And in February this year, AdWeek reported that counterfeit goods are “a $460 billion industry”, largely due to malicious actors online. The report, from the International Trademark Association, found that “the internet makes it easy to hide” and in fact named Facebook as one of the top 10 sites for the buying and selling of counterfeit products.

The sheer volume of bad actors trying to make a buck from companies and their customers means that creativity isn’t in short supply. If you thought the exercise of training employees against clicking on dangerous email attachments was hard, consider what it would take to educate the general public not to click on an impersonator’s Tweet.

A .brand new approach to secure links

So how does a .brand help make social links safer for your organization? To start with, it adds unprecedented control. Nobody can register a .brand domain except the organization that controls that .brand. This means that if you are using your .brand in social media, users can trust that the link really is from you – and it cannot be replicated by an external player. On top of that, organizations with a .brand will find themselves with a massive advantage over their competitors without their own branded extension.

Simple implementation is another benefit. Most organizations already use one of the many free or low-cost short link providers which enable the use of branded domains, such as Bitly or Rebrandly. Once you’ve registered a domain and set it up in your chosen platform, the new .brand link can be used in every social media post moving forward. This process is exactly the same as using any other custom URL shortener – no special set up required.

You can see this live already – check out HSBC’s Twitter to see its branded shortener grp.hsbc in action, or even look at our own @NeustarTLDs Twitter to see our use of i.neustar!

Those lucky enough to have a .brand can now drastically reduce the risk of malicious impersonation on social media by taking the simple step of using their .brand for their short links. Given recent feedback from our clients, and the rise in registrations of short .brand domain names, such as “go” and “on”, it seems there are more .brand URL shorteners on the horizon.  We can’t wait to see this become the standard in social links – and to help put the bad guys out of business.

GoDaddy acquired Neustar's registry business as of August 3, 2020.

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Think global, act local: Geo-targeting & your .brand

Think global, act local: Geo-targeting & your .brand

Think global, act local: Geo-targeting & your .brand

geo-targeting geotargeting digital marketing domains dotbrand

“The increased flexibility and ability to create domains specific to a location or region has created a world in which a global brand can now reach customers on a local level, leading to a better customer experience and strengthened brand loyalty.” 

GoDaddy acquired Neustar's registry business as of August 3, 2020.

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.brands Spotlight: Audi

.brands Spotlight: Audi

.brands Spotlight: Audi

The .brands Spotlight series takes a deep-dive into interesting facets of the .brands space, looking at Stats Hub data to find insights about how .brands are being used across different industries, regions and organizations. This Spotlight piece focuses in on automotive brand Audi’s use of its .brand TLD.

Summary

Amongst the global .brands, there are a number that fall under large corporate conglomerates, who applied for .brand TLDs for each of their group brands and products. Some examples include Google (which also applied for .youtube, .chrome and more), Microsoft (.xbox, .skype) and Amazon (.aws, .audible).

Another highly active organization is the Volkswagen Group, which controls a number of international automotive brands, the majority of which now also have a .brand TLD.

Of the VW Group’s .brands, none is more active than .audi – the domain for German luxury auto manufacturer Audi AG. Today’s Spotlight will focus specifically on Audi’s .brand as the largest in the Volkswagen Group’s portfolio of TLDs.

dotbrand spotlight stats hub

Key statistics

Total domains registered

  • Proportion of active domains (resolving or redirecting) 68% 68%
  • Proportion of overall automotive industry domains 46% 46%

Overall rank by domains registered

Key use cases

Industry spotlight: Creating a consistent brand experience around the world

Templates for dealership branding

A large majority of Audi’s .brand domains are allocated to individual Audi dealerships. These include the likes of leipzig.audi, potthoff-hamm.audi, and hahn-schorndorf.audi.

As with many automotive brands, Audi relies on a network of dealers and distributors, many of which are owned or operated independently. Sometimes, these dealerships are responsible for their own marketing, including website design and management. When visiting the website of their local Audi dealer, users often don’t care or even know whether the dealership is owned by the manufacturer itself. This presents great challenges for these brands in that the customer’s interaction with the brand is out of its control.

Audi’s dealership pages are highly templated, providing individualized contact and sales data while creating a consistent look and feel across the sites. By managing the pages in this way, Audi is able to regulate the way its brand is represented to customers, even when they are interacting with a local dealer.

This also has benefits for customer experience and brand loyalty. For the user, being able to navigate a consistent template across multiple dealerships even on the simplest of searches brings a positive experience and ease of navigation.

In this way, Audi appears to be using its .brand TLD to allow greater centralized control of how its brand is presented, while still allowing a localized experience for customers and dealers in specific regions.

For more on this approach to geo-targeting with .brands, check out our whitepaper: ‘Think global, act local’.

Corporate pages a good starting point for roll-out

In addition to its large volume of dealership websites, Audi has also introduced a number of corporate pages on its .audi domain. These primarily revolve around large corporate programs and individual promotional events, allowing Audi to build dedicated content that does not impact its existing sites.

Some of these are career and employment-based, such as the employee portal at weare.audi, and a recruitment page focused on vocational training and student internship programs at bepart.audi.

Other sites include event-based promotional sites, such as summit.audi which included a countdown and teaser in the lead-up to the July 2017 event, and now hosts information on the product and company updates that were presented. Another example is live.audi, which redirects to information on the Audi MediaCenter about the new Audi Q5 and its #Qriosity campaign.

These mostly function as stand-alone microsites with their own look and feel, but the .audi domain keeps them seamlessly within the Audi brand experience. It also allows for memorable domain calls to action like “We are…” and “Be part…” which strengthen customer experience.

Conclusion

As well as being one of the top-performing .brands by domain registration and utilization, Audi has established itself as a leader by rolling out a very clear strategy of local dealership domains. Based on the similar strategy emerging in Seat with .seat, and the proliferation of the Volkswagen Group’s brands within the industry, this approach is set to become an industry standard for organizations to create branding consistency through an independently operated retail channel.

The efforts of .audi also bode well for the other auto brands under the VW Group umbrella; including Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, MAN and Volkswagen itself, all of which have their own .brand TLDs.

The sheer size of the Volkswagen group, which in 2016 was the second largest auto manufacturer by production and has appeared in the Fortune 500 list of companies, means its impact in the retail, customer experience and digital marketing spheres is significant. The standard set by Audi may prove to be an example for other .brands around the world.

GoDaddy acquired Neustar's registry business as of August 3, 2020.

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