Selecting a Business Name in a Social Media Crazy World
|Written by Gene Quinn
Patent Attorney & Founder of IPWatchdog
Zies, Widerman & Malek
Follow Gene on Twitter @IPWatchdog
Posted: Jun 3, 2011 @ 12:12 pm
What’s in a name? Well likely far more than most businesses realize. Your business name is how people will identify with your goods and services, so you want to have one identity that is all your own. Simple enough really, at least in concept, but making a mistake at the selection stage will prove costly.
Back in the day, not so many years ago actually, attorneys would recommend that businesses conduct a trademark search before selecting a name. Then as the Internet became more a part of our business and personal lives you had to make sure that you could obtain an appropriate domain name to host your website. Now we are at the point where merely selecting a good name that gives you the opportunity for a good domain name is not enough. You really need to make sure that you can control not only the domain name associated with the business name you choose, but also the Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn account names associated with your business name.
Just the other day I heard on the radio that 40% of small businesses still do not have a website. That is an almost mind-boggling statistic. Additionally, according to a recent Citibank survey of businesses, only 36% use social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn to market their business. As low as 36% is, the number of businesses using social media jumped remarkably over the 2010 survey, which found only 19% using social media. What this means is that many businesses, and likley at least some of your competitors remain clueless. Still other businesses are just slowly catching on. That means if you haven’t taken appropriate steps to obtain and protect your business name it still isn’t too late, but the window of opportunity may close faster than you think.
It would seem virtually impossible to operate in the modern world without a website for your business, and soon it will be equally incomprehensible not to be using social media. The power of social media is only growing, and smart businesses are trying to position themselves to take advantage of the phenomenon. If you are serious about your business endeavors you too need to get in the social media game, and if you don’t already have a website for goodness sake get moving! For more information on using social media for business see Social Media Pitfalls, The Top 10 Mistakes Business Make with Social Media and Using Social Media to Show Expertise and Build Credibility.
Take for example the recent news of the U.S. military operation conducted by the vaunted U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6. By the time President Obama took to the podium to officially announce the killing of Usama bin Laden Twitter usage had spiked to 4,000 tweets per second. See PC Magazine. In fact, one person in Pakistan was unknowingly tweeting to the world about the bin Laden raid as it was being carried out. See CNN Tech. The power of social media is already enormous and will only continue to grow. Those who successfully leverage their web presence together with effective social media campaigns will reap the rewards, but as with anything in business those in early will reap the biggest rewards in the long run.
So what is a business, or entrepreneur, to do?
If you are an existing business you likely don’t have many choices if you are already established. What you will want to do is get the best domain name that most closely matches your business name as possible. You will likewise want to acquire your business name, or as close a match as possible, in social media circles like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. If this is proving difficult to accomplish you might want to consider either changing your business name, or starting to operate using a trade name, which you can subsequently trademark. An example to consider would be what pharmaceutical companies do. They have a corporate name that is protected via trademark, with a matching website. Then every drug they sell also has a unique name, with a matching website and appropriate trademark protection. This type of brand building not only helps consumers identify your products, but weaved together with an appropriate Internet and social media strategy it will allow consumers to find you more quickly when they search for you on the Internet.
If you are a new business, a young business or just in the process of forming your business, you should be spending time trying to come up with a unique name that gives you the ability to secure trademark protection for the name, gives you the ability to acquire the DOT COM domain name, and which gives you the ability to secure appropriate matching usernames in various social media outlets. You might also want to try and capture your business name @gmail.com and @yahoo.com for starters. If nothing else this will prevent others from confusing consumers and allow you to start to create that singular brand identity that traces back to you and your products and services.
As you move down this path to pick the appropriate name that gives you access to an appropriate Internet presence you should consider a trademark search, which can allow you to see if anyone else is using that name or a derivation of that name. Trademark searches can run anywhere from $99 to about $600 depending on the depth, whether you want only federal databases checked, whether you want State databases checked, whether telephone books are reviewed, etc. Even a top flight trademark search that lets you assure you have a unique name is cheaper than starting down a path only to have to restart once you find someone else is using the name or something that is too close for comfort. Think of the costs of new business cards, new letterhead, new signs, modified advertising and the confusion caused. It is always better to search and get it right from the beginning.
If you haven’t already, you should absolutely consider filing a United States trademark application to protect your business name, perhaps your logo if you have one and a slogan if you use it in advertising. The nice thing about trademark protection is that you can start by getting some trademark protection and then add to it over time, expanding your footprint. In this regard trademarks are extremely different than patents. With patents you need to seek them or likely lose all ability to obtain one. Trademarks can be obtained little by little, so there is no excuse to not obtain a trademark given the relatively low cost for the exceptionally powerful rights you will obtain. For more information please see Selecting the Right Trademark for your Business.
The moral of the story is this: an Internet presence and social media footprint are no long options for doing business. Succeeding in business is already difficult, there is no need to make it any more difficult than it already is. Effective use of Internet strategies to promote your business and identify yourself to consumers is an absolutely essential part of any branding and marketing campaign. After all, your competitors are doing it, so why shouldn’t you?
If you need assistance with respect to a trademark or developing a social media strategy for your business please don’t hesitate to contact me.
About the Author
Gene Quinn is a US Patent Attorney, law professor and the founder of IPWatchdog.com. He is also a principal lecturer in the top patent bar review course in the nation, which helps aspiring patent attorneys and patent agents prepare themselves to pass the patent bar exam. Gene started the widely popular intellectual property website IPWatchdog.com in 1999, and since that time the site has had many millions of unique visitors. Gene has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the LA Times, USA Today, CNN Money, NPR and various other newspapers and magazines worldwide. He represents individuals, small businesses and start-up corporations. As an electrical engineer with a computer engineering focus his specialty is electronic and computer devices, Internet applications, software and business methods.