Earlier this month, Radiance Harris and James Stewart attended a roundtable on trademark protection in social media. The event was hosted by the International Trademark Association (INTA) to create a forum for practitioners to share their experiences in this rapidly evolving area. This is a multipart series that will discuss potential pitfalls, enforcement mechanisms for brand protection, and strategic tips for engaging in social media.
Practitioners agree that social media is no longer a luxury for “early adopters” or “hip” brands, but a necessity for brands to leverage bilateral communication with consumers, thought leaders, and the press. If a brand does not have an active presence in social media, a user may create a presence for the brand. Sometimes these user-generated accounts can adopt a laudatory tone and engage consumers better than the brand could have envisioned engaging consumers. These accounts can grow to attract many thousands of fans. However, all too often practitioners have seen brands take an overly cautious stance and become the subject of a dreaded “smear account” (i.e. www.yourbrandsucks.com), in which the negative aspects of a brand or consumer experiences with a brand are highlighted.
These extremes aside, brand owners work hard to develop compelling intellectual property that uniquely resonates with consumers in a uniform and cohesive way. Even if a social media presence created for a brand does not adopt a negative stance, does it conform to the brand approved aesthetic? Are the correct logos, fonts, and colors used? If they are not, or worse, if the creator has a poor experience with the brand and the tone of the page turns negative, the brand does not have control or ownership of the page or the immediate ability to take control of the message. The brand may scramble to create its own “official” account to commence damage control, but many times this account will grow at a much slower rate than the rogue account. Often by the time the brand has come up with this alternative account, the rogue account has grown and an online multichannel social movement has come to life.