Authored by: Helen Saunders, Head of Intelligence and Operations | INCOPRO

Social media has become a key part of our day-to-day lives, enabling anyone to publish content and interact with others online.

It provides a brilliant opportunity for brands–from increasing visibility among potential consumers, to a direct line of contact to customers, all combined with the ability to link back to sales channels. However, the nature of social media means that exactly the same resources are available to counterfeiters, looking to take advantage or piggyback off brands’ market position. By using the same marketing methods, counterfeiters are making it increasingly difficult for customers to tell which products are fake, and which are real.

The global social media ecosystem

Social media is dominated by the large global platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. These platforms are universally popular but the differences that arise from language and culture should not be overlooked.  Vkontakte is a predominantly Russian platform, hugely popular with Russian speakers and operating in a very similar way to Facebook. In south east Asia, messaging apps such as WeChat, LINE and Kakao Talk are driving social interactions online.

Looking at the functionality and features of social media, it is possible to categorise them into different types: micro-bloggling and content sharing sites such as Twitter and Instagram; social networking sites such as Facebook; and messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Snapchat. All of these channels are being used by brands to market themselves, either through their own organic posts or via paid advertising. Acknowledging the opportunity for brand / user interaction, many social media sites have created new ways for brands to undertake commercial activities, such as by enabling payments through the sites / apps or by creating platforms specifically to sell products, like the Facebook Marketplace – which allows brands to advertise goods and communicate with buyers. However, as quickly as brands move onto these platforms, counterfeiters follow suit.

Targeting the right audience

Targeted ads on social media, for example, are a particularly big issue – as counterfeiters target their knock off goods to run alongside the real thing. The highly customisable nature of these campaigns means that brands and counterfeiters alike can find the exact audience they want to reach and promote themselves, based on demographics, interests and other characteristics. This poses challenges for finding the infringements in the first place, as no two users have the same social media experience. Platforms like Facebook are now offering tools to brands to assist in this process but there is still a long way to go, to ensure full visibility for brands.

Social media as a transaction-maker

In China, WeChat is taking social media functionality even further than the largest global platforms. While not widely used in Europe, WeChat has 1.1 billion users, the clear majority of which are from China. Through the app, users can not only message each other by can also share content and make transactions. Around 300 million of its users have enables its payment solution, WePay making it a highly attractive method by which to sell products. Consequently, a huge 92 percent of global luxury brands use to market their products. Couple this with the ability to make creative and innovative campaigns, with many brands now selling directly through the app, this is a powerful tool for brands.

Unsurprisingly, counterfeiters are using the same opportunity to drive their business. Their stock can be viewed on “WeChat Moments”, often driven by posts on other social media platforms such as Instagram. It’s an easy process for consumers – they simply email message the counterfeiter to ask for prices and arrange shipping, and will then transfer the money via WeChat Pay. The transaction is done largely hidden from public view, making it difficult to disrupt.

Even when social media platforms don’t facilitate financial transactions for goods directly, counterfeiters use these sites to drive traffic to their domains where potential customers can then buy the product.

Hashtag abuse is key to driving traffic to posts and then onto other social media platforms or online spaces. Critically, counterfeiters will rarely use just one site to sell their products; instead, they will have multiple domains and accounts at their disposal, making it far more difficult to track the counterfeit seller back to the source and making them more resilient to take downs.

Taking down the network

Due to the multiple site approach that counterfeiters take, in order to tackle this issue brands now need to ensure they are monitoring the entire social media presence, as well as the offending domains. Counterfeit sellers will often have back up website addresses, and use social media to tell their “fan base” about the new site to use when an old site is taken down. Consequently, the counterfeiter can be selling fake merchandise again within hours. Therefore, taking an indiscriminate “whack-a-mole” approach to eliminating counterfeiters can be endless and ultimately pointless.

If, however, brands take a holistic approach, they can use the links between social media accounts, counterfeit websites and marketplaces to take down the counterfeiter’s whole network. Correlating common contact information between accounts, for example, can allow a brand to identify the commercial epicentre of a network and cease a host of offending accounts all at once. To do this, brands must monitor marketplaces, app stores, website operations and social media in conjunction with one another to ensure that they are not just cutting off one branch, of a multi-branch operation.

 

To find out how INCOPRO can help your brand protect itself in the ever challenging online environment, please contact us.

To view the article on CITMA website, view article here.