The emergence of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter has materially affected brand owners. These sites, and others like them, allow brand owners to interact directly with their customers or potential customers. As a result the use of social media by brand owners is rapidly increasing.

The most popular media sites are Facebook1, Twitter2 and Youtube. In addition to the opportunity to take part in activities on these sites, each of the respective operators of the sites offers to brand owners digital advertising services and related products to assist in reaching consumers3.

At the same time, there are potential concerns with social media. Concerns include, but are not limited to, the unauthorized use and adoption of user names that incorporate brand names and the impact of unauthorized or negative publicity.

User Names

Typically each user of a social media site will have an individual username assigned to them that consists of a URL. Brand owners should secure user names consisting of their brand name. Controlling such user names serves two purposes; first, the user name can be used to reach consumers, and second, it is a proactive step to avoid problems relating to the control of the user name by a third party4.

The legal status of a username is unclear. Like existing domain names, there are few controls relating to who may apply for what. The dispute resolution policies that apply to confusing domain names do not apply to user names. There may not be sufficient “trade-mark use” to support an action in the courts for infringement. However, most of the major social media website operators have trade-mark policies that allow brand owners to report an infringement of a trade-mark by a user that can be helpful.

Unauthorized or Negative Publicity

False or negative product reviews and the like come within this category. Although it is a daunting task, the key is to have monitoring procedures in place so a brand owner can respond promptly in an appropriate fashion5.

In addition, brand owners need to develop and implement guidelines for their own employees concerning what they can and cannot do in an online context. The guidelines should instruct employees and should be incorporated in an employee handbook or a stand-alone document. The guidelines must be seen as part of and consistent with the overall brand management strategy of the brand owner.

Summary

Brand owners need to be proactive concerning social media. Brand owners should secure user names, monitor activities on the Internet and develop appropriate responses.