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Published December 2020, latest version December 2021
The Internet is our primary arena for communication and branding, as well as a rapidly expanding marketplace for buying and selling goods and services. This means that anyone offering anything needs to be conscious of how they build their online identity.

The Internet has comThe Internet has completely changed society. In 2020, 92 percent of the population aged 9 to 79 used the Internet during an average day. In 1997 this number was 7 percent. The time the population spends on the internet has also increased. Among those who use the internet, the average time spent was 3 hours and 48 minutes in 2020, this is 25 minutes more than in 2019, and as much as 36 minutes more than in 2018 1. These numbers both reflect the tremendous development that has taken place in a very short period of time, and indicate how important this infrastructure is in today’s society.

The Internet is an important source of news, information, and entertainment, and people use the Internet as part of their jobs, in school, and in their personal life. 76 percent of the people who use the Internet over the course of a day, use it to send or receive email. People who go on Facebook every day account for roughly the same percentage. More than half the population use the Internet daily to look up facts or find background information. In addition, video, TV and music, usually in the form of streaming services, fight for people’s attention online 2.

Usage of Internet offers and services an average day

Service Share
Read online newspapers 70
Email 76
Read blogs 6
Social media 76
Facts/background information 69
Looking at ads 41
Info about events, restaurants, etc. 35
Banking services 54
Book travel/tickets 6
Online shopping 12
Public services 18
Other services 11
Watched movies, TV, videos 64
Source: Norwegian media barometer 2020

Our online habits mean the Internet is a key platform for value-creation. Online retailers in Norway had a total turnover exceeding NOK 35 billion in 2020, an increase of as much as 38 percent compared to 2019 3. Almost seven percent of Norwegian domain names have shopping basket functionality built in 4, and for many businesses online sales are the primary sales channel. The Internet is also the primary channel of communication between public agencies and the nation’s inhabitants and businesses, e.g. for tax returns, employer's National Insurance contributions, and access to public services. As the public sector goes digital, an increasing number of services becomes available online.

This development means that anyone offering anything, be it goods, services or information, must be online. There are many ways to establish an online presence, from services on your own domain name to free services to a multitude of social media. In order to be perceived as professional – someone people can trust – it’s important to be conscious of how you choose to present yourself. Your choice of channel and the profile of your content will affect the identity you create for yourself and your business.

Email and websites are key channels

For Norwegian businesses their own website is the most frequently chosen channel for one-to-many communication 5. In addition, email is among the most common forms of communication online; most of us send or receive email daily.

There are several different ways to access these two channels. Your business may choose to register its own domain name and create a website and email using that domain, such as www.mydomain.no and shop@mydomain.no. Or you can choose to use one of the many free email providers, such as gmail.com or hotmail.com. There are also providers who let you create a free website using their service, for example wordpress.com and blogg.no.

Domain names and top-level domains

All devices connected to the Internet have their own unique IP address, which consist of a long sequence of numbers. The Domain Name System links IP addresses to unique domain names.

Examples of domain names many use daily: dagbladet.no, vg.no, google.com and facebook.com.

The last part of the domain name – its “last name” – is the top-level domain the domain name is registered under. There are two different types of top-level domains: country code top-level domains (such as .no or .se) and generic top-level domains (such as .com, .org or .shop).

The drawback of using free services is that your business will have an email address or a website that is linked to that specific service provider, such as shop@gmail.com and shop.wordpress.com, and you have to comply with the provider’s terms of use. If the provider changes its terms of use or close the service, your business is forced to find a new address and inform all customers, suppliers and partners about the new contact information.

Nor is it the case that all addresses instill the same trust; customers and others have more faith in some than others. For example, businesses who rely on free email addresses is perceived as less professional than those whose email addresses are on their own domain name 6.

With its own domain name, the business itself – the domain holder – is free to set the rules for the content and decide what the domain name is to be used for. The domain holder is free to choose which provider to use for website, email and other services, and can take the domain name and its content to another provider if they want. Most Norwegian businesses (85 percent) have registered at least one domain name 7.

Your choice of neighbourhood means a lot for how you are perceived

Norwegian domain names are domain names ending in .no, which is the Norwegian country code top-level domain. As of December 2021, there are approx. 300 country code top-level domains and 1200 so-called generic top-level domains worldwide 8. Most are open to anyone who wants to register a domain name, so there are plenty of options.

Technically speaking, all domain names work the same way, regardless of which top-level domain they are registered under. Most top-level domains have chosen roughly the same level of pricing. For customers, that means that the choice of top-level domain primarily becomes one of identity; what do they want to be associated with? The identity of a top-level domain – its brand – gives value to any domain name registered under it.

Different top-level domains have different identities

One example of the importance of top-level domain identity is .com, which is the biggest top-level domain in the world. It is getting crowded, but its brand is so strong that many prefer a longer and more complicated .com domain name over a shorter name under a lesser known top-level domain. One of the first top-level domains to try to build a competing brand, was .biz, which was launched in 2001. Ten years later, however, only one .biz domain name was among the 500,000 most popular websites worldwide, while there were 323,000 .com domain names on the list 9.

Another top-level domain with a strong brand is .no. There is a clear consensus in Norway that domain names under .no is the most recognizable in the Norwegian market 10, and it has a definite identity as Norwegian and as a quality domain. Of Norwegian businesses that have registered domain names, 92 percent have chosen to register one or more under .no. As important factors in choosing a .no domain name, they list .no being easy to find for customers, that .no indicates it’s a Norwegian business, and that .no gives a signal that they are professional 11.

The top-level domain .no is associated with quality

Very Important Fairly important Somewhat important Not important Do not know
.no signals we are professional 43 25 12 14 6
.no shows we are a Norwegian business 50 33 9 6 2
.no is easiest to find for our customers, users or members 46 27 10 11 6
Source: Survey on the use of domain names in Norway (performed by Ipsos on behalf of Norid, August 2021)
Question in the survey:
"How important are the following factors in your business’ choice to register one or more .no domains?"

The identity of a top-level domain is more than pure branding, however. It also reflects the “neighbourhood” its customers become a part of, i.e. which other domain names have been registered within the top-level domain, and what they are used for. A top-level domain where the majority of domain names are used as the domain holders’ primary home on the Internet, is more attractive to new customers than if the majority of domain names serve no other purpose than to redirect visitors to other top-level domains 12, or worse, are registered for activities such as spam, fraud, and malware.

Quality is influenced by requirements imposed

One of the factors influencing the type of neighbourhood a top-level domain fosters, is the requirements imposed on those wanting to register domain names. Top-level domains with few or no identification requirements, and which also offer free registration, tends to attract questionable activities 13.

The spammers know that the domain will likely get blacklisted but hope they will get a positive return on investment by delivering enough messages before blacklisting is enforced. The investment for a new domain registration is very low these days. The huge expansion in the Top Level Domain (TLD) namespace in the past few years followed by fierce price competition between registrars means that the first year’s registration for many TLDs costs less than one dollar. A one-year registration is much more than is needed for the spammer’s purposes. A few hours are plenty to make a profit on a 99 cent domain, and in some cases a few minutes may be enough.

Cloudmark, 2018

It’s no coincidence that top-level domains like .tk, for example, who has minimal requirements for its applicants and offers free domain names the first year, long has been regarded as such a top-level domain. One of the largest providers of anti-spam systems, Cloudmark, reports that a considerable share of known .tk-domains is used to send spam 14. The same trend can be found in several of the top-level domains established in recent years, for example .fit and .work 15.

At the other end of the spectrum we find the Norwegian top-level domain, where anyone who wants to register a domain name must identify themselves, by providing either an organization number registered in the Register of Business Enterprises, or a national identity number registered in the National Population Register. This requirement, which also has solid support among Norwegian companies and in the general population 16, means that there is a real person or business behind every Norwegian domain name.

In Norway we have also decided to put a cap on the number of domain names each domain holder can register. The idea behind this requirement is to make sure there are good names available for future domain holders, too, but it also serves as an obstacle for those who want to register a large number of disposable domains to spread spam or malware. Of course, these requirements don’t necessarily mean you can trust everything that comes from a Norwegian domain name, but they contribute to making .no a good neighbourhood. This, in turn, add value to all Norwegian domain names, something which is reflected in how people prefer to shop from a Norwegian domain name if all other factors are equal 17.

Prefer to buy from online stores with Norwegian domain names

shop.no shop.com Other
Population 77 8 15
Businesses 87 7 6
Source: Survey on the use of domain names in Norway (performed by Ipsos on behalf of Norid, August 2021)
Question in the survey:
"If you were to buy something online, which of these websites would you prefer to shop from?"

A domain name is the business’ own little corner on the Internet, and so becomes a central part of the digital identity of the business. Knowing that, it’s important to choose a top-level domain that you believe reflects the identity you want to create for the business. Nobody wants to set up the company’s new site under a top-level domain with a reputation for spam and malware. This is no different online than in other contexts; customers normally look into the reputation of those providing critical services.

Social media has a low score on trust

From being a marginal phenomenon, social media has in a short period of time developed into a strong competitor to the established media, and a lot of people use these channels on a daily basis. With almost 2.9 billion active users, Facebook is the most popular social medium worldwide, followed by YouTube and WhatsApp 18.

There are considerable differences from country to country in terms of which social media is the most popular. In Norway, Facebook is the most popular, with around 3.5 million personal profiles, followed by Snapchat and Instagram 19. The enormous presence, however, is in stark contrast to the level of trust people have in these channels as a source of information. As many as one out of three indicate that they have low or very low trust in Facebook, whereas around one out of four say the same about Snapchat and Instagram 20. In addition to trust, reputation and values ​​are important when a business is choosing a channel for communication with the public. For example, Facebook experienced a large-scale boycott campaign in which several major companies stopped all advertising in response to Facebook not taking responsibility for restricting the publication of hateful expressions and untruths 21

Social media use in Norway

Platform Share
Facebook 69
Messenger 48
Snapchat 47
Instagram 39
YouTube 30
Twitter 11
Whatsapp 10
Reddit 5
TikTok 13
LinkedIn 5
Updated at: 1 July 2021
Source: Social media tracker Q1’20 (Ipsos)
Share of Norwegian population over the age of 18 with a profile on various social media services.

Social media invites interaction and participation to a much greater degreethan conventional websites do. The threshold for two-way communication is low, and it is easy for users to establish a basic relationship as a “follower” etc. of businesses or events they are interested in.

Because the benefit of a social network is entirely dependent on the number of users, most social media have chosen a business model that focuses on growth. Having a user profile is free, the service is financed by running ads in various forms.

Different social media are used in different ways. Platforms like Facebook focus on creating constant interaction, primarily between family and friends. They achieve this by facilitating for users to share status updates, photos, social games, etc., while mechanisms like likes, comments, and sharing provide a social reward for active users. Other types of social media, like Twitter, are about fast mass communication. There are also some social media that benefits the user even if they don’t create a profile and actively connect with other users in the network. YouTube is one example. You can see content shared on YouTube without creating a profile. 87 percent of the Norwegian population over the age of 18 use this service every month, but only 46 percent have their own profile 22.

Seeing as the different social media attract different user groups, you can reach specific groups by strategically choosing where and how to communicate. This makes it possible to reach those you believe are the most interested in your message. In addition, some social media also offer the opportunity to segment users by behaviours and characteristics, making it possible to home in on the desired target audience based on the purpose of your message.

The provider sets the terms of use

One drawback to using social media is that you are using a channel where the provider sets the terms of use. The provider will likely have some restrictions on the type of content one is allowed to post, for example, and these do not necessarily comply with Norwegian law or Norwegian expectations.  The provider can remove content that violates their guidelines, and for a user it is often difficult to impact the decision if they believe content has been removed on the wrong basis. This was the case when Facebook in 2016 blocked the instructional photos posted by Ammehjelpen, a breastfeeding help group 23. Another example was that the monitoring of content was left to programs that used machine learning during the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020 instead of people evaluating the content. This led to a lot of content being removed on the wrong basis 24

The social media provider is also the one to decide if and when to change the terms of use, and if so, what these changes will entail. Facebook, for example, has changed the algorithms for how a post shows up in people’s news feeds several times 25, and the chances of a business reaching a wide audience by posting a regular status update (organic reach) have been severely reduced. Naturally, changing the terms in turn also affects the strategy businesses apply in their use of the channel.

It’s important to be aware that most social media require quite broad authorizations from users in terms of exploiting the content produced and uploaded by users. For example, the terms of use for Facebook, Google, Snapchat, Twitter, and LinkedIn include the right to use, copy, distribute, display, publish, make available and create derivative works of user content 26. In addition to covering most forms of commercial and non-commercial use of the content, several social media services also require that any rights acquired by them be transferable to third parties. As a result, users lose control of the content they produce.

What does this mean for end-users? A broad license may be used to do something as innocent as making a thumbnail out of your profile picture and making it accessible to your friends; or something as unnerving as printing out your chat messages and selling them to the highest bidder. What is important to note is that this decision – what kind of content use the platform providers will engage in – is completely out of the user’s hands: by giving an all-encompassing license, they relinquish control over their content. It is now up to the platform providers to decide what they want to do with it – depending on which features they want to introduce. Of course, it is quite likely that they will not actually do everything that they may do under the license. Yet, this does little to alleviate serious concerns about potential abuses.

Novovic, 2018

Information about everything we do online, and especially how we use social media, is collected in a large scale, and used for various purposes. This means that if you use social media, for example by creating a page for your business on Facebook, the personal data of those who visit the page is processed by the social media provider.

The Norwegian Data Protection Authority points out that everyone who processes personal data must ensure that they comply with the obligations in the Privacy Ordinance, and that the obligations also apply when a company uses social media. The Data Protection Authority itself has chosen not to set up a page on Facebook, as they believe it entails too high a risk for the rights and freedoms of the visitors, without those who own the page being able to implement sufficient measures to reduce the risk 27. The Technology Council came to the same conclusion in the autumn of 2021, and closed down its Facebook page 28.

Our approach is just one way of going about this. All assessments and contributions in this area are welcome, and the relevant legislation allows for considerable flexibility in terms of method, execution and resources. We want to build a discourse on the use of social media by public authorities.

By using the most popular tools available, free of charge, from the large technology companies, public agencies invite commercial actors to collect and use data about Norwegian citizens. At the same time, a relationship of dependency is created which it can be difficult to break free from as there are few alternative service providers.

Bjørn Erik Thon, Data Protection Commissioner

From theory to practice – guidance for assessing data protection in social media

When it comes to the use of social media, all companies must make their own assessments of the risk it entails. Some guides that may be helpful are:

The Data Protection Authority's guidance on how companies can assess risk and privacy consequences

The assessment The Data Protection Authority's made of its own use of Facebook

A stable identity in an ever-changing landscape?

One of the challenges of being online is the difficulty of building a stable identity customers recognize and trust in a landscape that is forever changing. Social media come and go, and it’s hard to know which channels will be relevant in the future.

Having your own domain makes it possible to build a stable presence online, with content under the company’s control and ownership. 81 percent of Norwegian businesses believe their domain name is important for their brand, and most use it as a gateway to their products or services 29.

As an addition to a website on your own domain name, a conscious approach to social media can create increased visibility and interaction related to important messages from the business. Around 14 percent of Norwegian websites have integrated a Facebook module (widget) on their site 30. Second to business’ own website, Facebook is the most popular channel of communication.

Important communication channels for Norwegian businesses

To a very large extent To a fairly large extent To some extent To a fairly small extent Not at all Do not know
Business website 39 24 11 10 14 2
Facebook 16 25 21 19 19 0
Other social media apps 6 13 12 16 52 1
Source: Survey on the use of domain names in Norway (performed by Ipsos on behalf of Norid, August 2021)
Question in the survey:
"To what degree does your business use different channels of communication? Would you say you use the following channels...?"

Which types of social media a business chooses to use will depend on where its target audience is and which social media give the best value for money.

In today’s information jungle it can be difficult to present a clear and recognizable profile. In order to build a uniform digital identity, it can be a good idea to use the same profile name across several channels. If your domain name – be it your company name or the name of a product – is used in email addresses and as profile names in social media, it’s easier for people to remember and recognize your business across different channels.

The following video has Norwegian dub and no English captions.

From theory to practice – the name is key to building your digital identity

It can be hard to decide on a name when establishing a new business, service, or product. The Norwegian Industrial Property Office has some tips to choosing a good name:
http://www.innomag.no/valg-av-navn-lykketreff-eller-bomskudd/

Check to see if the name is available for registration and free of encumbrances or restrictions (the service checks the Domain Register, the Central Coordinating Register for Legal Entities and Trade Mark Register in one go):
https://navnesok.no/

Sources