Social media offers a new frontier for marketing your brand. For every push, there is a pull, and as soon as you leverage social media, you have to immediately take steps to ensure the very brand you’re promoting stays protected.
Often, relatively simple steps can be taken to protect one’s brand on social networking sites. Prevention is often less expensive than dealing with the problem after infringement has occurred. We recommend that companies contemplating having a presence on social networking sites, or simply want to prevent others who are not authorized to have a presence from using their marks, to come up with a strategy for protecting their trademarks. Here are a few simple steps:
Register your brand. One of the easiest proactive steps a company can take is to register its brand. When Facebook launched its username option, it made provisions for owners of registered trademarks to reserve usernames that are representative of their marks. Even companies that were not Facebook users could fill out a Preventing the Registration of a Username form to reserve use of their mark. Similarly, with sites like Twitter, simply registering your name, even if your company chooses not to maintain an active account, may be a good prevention strategy to keep the cybersquatter, or username-squatter, from using your brand.
Have a monitoring system in place. Once brand owners have registered their name, or even if they have not, it is advisable to implement a monitoring program. A few employees or even outside contractors can regularly check social networking sites for damage to a company’s brand. Such a monitoring program can include checks for bad press, trademark infringement, and the sale of counterfeit goods, among other things. A company can create a plan for what social networking sites it will regularly monitor. Some websites, such as eBay, make searches simple for the brand owner. A user can designate favorite searches that will regularly return results for their designated brands, products, or sellers. Other Websites such as icerocket.com, Google.com/alerts, and technorati.com search blogs, Twitter, MySpace, and news groups.
Take an active role in social networking sites. Often, the best way to protect your brand online is to join in the online community. There is nothing more effective than creating your own positive buzz. Posting interesting information on your Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter page can generate feedback from fans and spread the word about your product. Creating an account on a social networking site can also be an effective way to rehabilitate your brand after it has been damaged.
Analyze the type of strategy you want to take. It is important to develop a well-defined strategy when dealing with trademark infringement. The approach you take can vary on a case-by-case basis, depending on the seriousness of the infringing activity, such as whether it was done to cause harm to your brand or simply a misguided fan who creates his own fan page for your products. Certainly, a company will not want to take a harsh approach to an innocent infringer because bad press about the approach may hurt the company more than the infringing activity itself. A soft approach may be better suited. On the other hand, if the activity is clearly intended to harm the company, a strong approach may be warranted.
Take time upfront to devise a plan to protect your brand. Then, engage social media to do its job and help you easily publicize and market your company, people, goods, and services. Use today’s tools wisely, and watch for positive results. For more information about social media law, please see our website.