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Facebook.com/Brand vs. a New TLD: What's a Brand to Do?

Alexa Raad

Last week I published an article in Ad Age that the editors titled "Should your company jump on the dot-brand bandwagon?” I received several emails and LinkedIn requests from advertising and PR agencies as well as brand managers. One of the questions I received had to do with my opinion on whether brands that are currently promoting themselves via Facebook, e.g., "Find us on Facebook.com/brand," should consider the new Top-Level Domains (TLDs).

The fact is more and more brands are promoting themselves this way. Just note how many TV and online ads you see where the company asks their users and customers to find them or interact with them on Facebook. Why are they subjugating their brand? Well, they are simply chasing traffic, which for now it's on Facebook. And Facebook is happily monetizing all that traffic for its own benefit.

I am a firm believer that the winners in life and business are those who are proactive and not reactive. Reactive decision-making often is impulsive and responds to stimuli such as fads or immediate rewards. Proactive decision-making, on the other hand, is thoughtful and considers the long-term consequences of risk and reward.

Now back to the question. By driving traffic to and building a brand underneath Facebook's, companies are in effect subject to Facebook's policies and fortunes, which these companies can't control. If they are simply being reactive and chasing traffic, then they should ask themselves if they recall MySpace or AOL Keywords. At one time these companies were media darlings with large subscriber bases. Yet their fortunes changed dramatically.

Though a new TLD is not suitable for many companies and brands, for those who seek greater control over security, user experience, policy and governance — and yes even monetization — it may be a great solution. Many well known internet brands today are facing declining traffic and time spent on their websites, as their traffic is leaking to the social media and community sites. If they monetize that traffic or time to sell goods and services, that trend is foreboding.

Subjugating their brand by promoting it under another may stem the tide a bit in the short-term, but in the long-term means dilution, loss of control and yes, even declining revenue. If they can instead use a new TLD as a platform and a complement to their existing website where they can deliver a better user experience and innovative solutions, they may have hedged their bets better than their competitors.

The key is to study and truly understand customer needs, then use technology and changes in the regulatory landscape (such as the potential new gTLD rollout) to innovate.

As I said in the article, "smart brands, enterprises and entrepreneurs are already weighing their online options. The winners are likely to be the innovators who understand them and the nascent, and sometimes fickle, customer needs."

By Alexa Raad, CEO of Architelos – Architelos provides consulting and managed services for clients applying for new top-level domains, ranging from new TLD application support to launch and turnkey front-end management of a new TLD. She can be reached directly at araad@architelos.comVisit Page
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To 'plus up' the policies and fortunes aspect Jothan Frakes  –  May 15, 2011 4:34 PM PDT

Using a .brand shortens the length of the 'chain' of fortune, narrowing the number of contracted parties.  Meaning that .brand is between the brand and ICANN. 

brand -> icann

Many brands host their own online presence and other key resources using a domain name that they get from a registrar if they don't use Facebook.

brand -> registrar -> registry -> icann

companies are in effect subject to Facebook's policies and fortunes, which these companies can't control.

brand -> facebook -> facebook's registrar -> registry -> icann

There are layers to even this. 

Folks often shop forum when it holds advantage to find loose links in the chain if they seek to disrupt it.  I am not an attorney, this is just something that is apparent in where and how the various lawsuits that have appeared over time have played out.

Point being not that someone would seek to sue or disrupt a brand under normal circumstances, but in the case of any the links in the chain get disrupted (even over third party issues), the impact can effect the brand.  The fewer, the better.

Because most people navigate to Facebook using Facebook.com, companies are also in effect subject to the policies and fortunes of the registrar Facebook uses and their T&Cs;and perhaps regional laws based upon that registrar's primary place of business. 

Also because the TLD is .COM, which is operated by VeriSign, jurisdiction of court order can be US-Based and because VeriSign has offices in Virginia and California.

I am not suggesting folks stop drinking Facebook brand fruit juice if they want to.  I think your article explains this all very well… Make the smartest long term choice.

I am still watching for a company that spends 8 digits in annual advertising to recognize what the longer term reach of that budget could be if applied to new TLDs. 

That's going to be a profound moment.

One counter-point The Famous Brett Watson  –  May 16, 2011 8:03 AM PDT

One caveat with regards to a domain name--any domain name, not just TLDs--is that they are rather easy to block. Jothan's analysis, above, considers not only policies and fortunes, but also third-party interference and the possibility of "forum shopping" to find the weakest link in the chain, but the analysis is incomplete. There are other links in the chain where the DNS is concerned, most notably DNS-resolution service providers.

ICANN is DNS service provider, but only in the sense that it operates one of the root servers (the L-root server). Most actual DNS queries are addressed to and answered by parties other than ICANN. DNS queries tend to start at the end-user computer, and they can be subverted at that point by various kinds of software, some malicious, some "protective". A domain name does not necessarily result in a DNS query for that name at all: it is only at the whim of the browser (or similar) that text provided by the user is treated as a domain name to be contacted, as opposed to a term to be searched.

Even if the end-user computer composes some kind of query relating to the domain name, the DNS server to which the query is addressed is likely to be that of the user's ISP, or perhaps some third party DNS-resolution service provider (many of whom are represented here on CircleID). The ISP, or DNS-resolution service providers in general, can easily present a target for interference. For example, the world at large is becoming aware that the US government is quite prepared to use its jurisdictional advantage to coerce certain registries into altering domain name records (i.e. "Operation In Our Sites"). A possible reaction to this is to switch to national TLDs outside US jurisdiction. A possible counter-reaction to that strategy is to coerce large DNS providers under US jurisdiction (e.g. major ISPs, Google) to respond to DNS queries with altered results.

Such an approach does not have the global impact that altering the registry does, but it reveals a more subtle problem: you are not only faced with the large, obvious threat of interference at the registry level, but also with an indefinite number of smaller threats that might interfere at the DNS resolution level. Ultimately, you are at the whim of each and every DNS-resolution service provider to pass on your DNS records as you intend them to be. DNSSEC is intended to make interference at this level more conspicuous, but it does nothing to harden the system against denial of service. A client can easily be presented with only an unsigned, unauthorised response, and an option to take it or leave it.

Technically, other protocols are subject to interference by ISPs and similar middle-men, but not with the relative ease of DNS. HTTP traffic can be and often is intercepted and altered, either as a matter of state-sponsored censorship or private "monetization" schemes, but not all providers have the capacity (or desire) to do this. With HTTP, it suffices for the ISP to let the traffic flow between end-points unmolested, as intended, whereas DNS resolution is a basic part of Internet service in which the ISP must actively participate (at minimum by referring their clients to some third party service).

My conclusion is simply this: don't underestimate the possible vulnerabilities in the DNS, if that happens to be your concern. Jothan's succinct little "brand -> icann" representation is a slight oversimplification in that regard--a not-quite-full disclosure of risk that might encourage a greater sense of security than is warranted.

Good point. Jothan Frakes  –  May 16, 2011 12:56 PM PDT

Brett, you make a good point. 

If I can re-iterate it as I understood it, I read it to be that another blocking point might exist in DNS or potentially at a search engine for that matter, and that a TLD or a domain name, or IP address would be what gets blocked (in the absence of some deep packet inspection + blocking).

In that situation, an ISP or provider might alter DNS or create firewall entries to block a site or domain, but is less likely to block facebook to block a brand because of the consequences of blocking having far wider impact than intended, and creating a larger outage.

Not identical, but it would be like if wikileaks had the same IP address as youtube or google.com.  ISPs would not block access to the IP address because it would cause more harm than good, potentially.

That is a fair argument to the benefits of http://facebook.com/brand over .brand

I did also oversimplify my example for brand -> icann, as the registry service provider each for resolution and registration services could potentially be in the middle of the chain, but there are some technology solutions out there and sophisticated brands that have IT departments where this could and would be internalized, and it was intended to illustrate the contract chain more than the provisioning or supply chain.

Anyway, good points, Brett, as always.  I still think Alexa's point about brands making the right choice is very well made, too.  There are some brands that a TLD will be the right solution, and there will be some for whom it is not.

Alexa -- good post. A few points:1. Christopher Parente  –  May 17, 2011 9:52 AM PDT

Alexa — good post. A few points:

1. When brands advertise their properties on Facebook, what they are really advertising is Facebook, not themselves. You suggest this but don't state it.

2. You're right when you say customer needs should precede technology. Presumably, companies that are spending a lot of time and money with Facebook are there because it's good business, their customers and/or prospects are there.

Should a company go with a .brand TLD, it will be their job to replicate that huge source of traffic, probably through advertising. So yes the company will have more control, but that company will also have to spend much $$$ to drive traffic.

3. Subset of point above — as you say "traffic is leaking to social media and community sites." This is because consumers are voting with their browsers for a better online experience. Securing a .brand TLD may be a good move for some companies, but does nothing (by itself) to help brands create a better online experience for their online visitors.

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