The term digital real estate refers to the domain names, social media handles or other markers that stake out a space on the Internet as being yours.
Digital real estate can take many forms, from a free service such as a Twitter account, to highly regulated and sometimes, costly domains.
All digital real estate provides an access point or digital front for brands. Just as you wouldn’t set up a law firm at a sports centre, there’s not much point in paying for a domain that doesn’t relate to your business. Your digital assets must be relevant to your business.
First come, first served
Digital real estate, such as social media accounts and domain names, is available for registration on a first come, first served basis. As there can be competing legitimate interests in digital real estate, it is very important to secure your digital assets early.
Why secure your digital real estate?
Securing digital real estate connected to your brand provides more entry points for consumers to access your business. Also, it prevents a third party from doing so and then providing similar goods or services to those that you offer. This can be well within the law, particularly if that third party is only providing competing goods or services outside of the country or countries that you operate within or if you are using a descriptive brand name.
You should register a range of domain names that are connected to your brand. For example, domain names that include misspellings of your brand name are commonly registered as part of a domain name portfolio. So are domain names with a range of different extensions (for example, widget.com, widget.com.au and widget .net.au). This is referred to as a defensive domain name strategy.
Do you own digital real estate?
Most digital real estate is not capable of legal ownership. Often, your interest in digital real estate is merely a licence to use a certain platform. Domain names may seem more permanent, but they are also only allocated under licence. The .au Domain Administration Ltd (AUDA) rules clearly state, “the registrant holds a licence to use a domain name, for a specified period of time and under certain terms and conditions”.
How secure is digital real estate?
Just like a registered trade mark may (upon application) be removed from the Trade Marks Register for non-use, social media accounts may be terminated for the same reason. For example, the Twitter Rules refer to inactivity as “username squatting” and accounts that go unused for six months may be removed without further notice. Facebook has similar provisions.
Registering social media accounts and not using them is a risk for businesses that have taken up a range of social media accounts as part of a defensive strategy.
Whether or not you intend to use certain digital real estate connected to your brand is a secondary issue. Put simply, you should register all forms of digital real estate and then, consider how to maintain and keep it. Failure to secure these assets early can lead to disappointment and, in some cases, may result in dispute that could have otherwise been avoided.
Just like in the real world, there are good reasons to invest and stake out the best spaces on the web for your business. But it’s important to understand and consider the risks when it comes to registering and using digital real estate.
Contact us today to receive your free resource to keep track of your digital real estate assets.