When using social networking sites:

  • consider if this is the best forum for your brand/business
  • only do so if you are going to actively engage with other users
  • be aware of the culture of the site
  • observe site etiquette when engaging with other users
  • build trust in your brand before you start marketing
  • use the on-site complaint tools

1. Register key trade marks as usernames across social networking sites; consider registration of obvious alternatives such as "BRAND [business type]". Note you need to make use of usernames to retain ownership on some sites (eg Twitter).

2. Consider whether sub-units, subsidiaries, distributors or licensees should be allowed to register social networking site usernames including your trade mark as part of their business operations. If so, ensure that the conditions of use are properly documented, and that licensees and distributors are obliged to return control of usernames including your trade mark to you at the conclusion of any agreement.

3. Avoid defensive name registration strategies likely to offend social networking communities, eg "BRAND [sucks/sux]". Allow your brand and social networking presence to speak for itself. Given the number of permutations on detrimental names, it is in any case impossible to cover off on an all likely critical usernames.

4. Monitor use of your brand on social networking sites, and make use of on-site search functionality such as search.twitter.com. Use this information to direct your marketing strategy for the site (see below), or to focus your enforcement strategy if necessary.

5. Ensure that your enforcement strategy for social networking sites is consistent with your "real world" enforcement strategy. If you typically take action against any and all unauthorised use of your brand, you should continue to do so on social networking sites, but if you plan to use the site for marketing, you should bear in mind the likely response of site users and the "culture" of the site to ensure that any enforcement strategy does not derail your marketing plans. If on the other hand your usual approach is only to pursue unauthorised use of your brand where there is evidence that it is giving rise to confusion, consider monitoring social network sites (and using search functions, if relevant) to check if third party use is giving rise to confusion before taking action. Additionally, increase your own activity on the relevant site to swamp any misuse and reinforce the connection between your company and the brand.

6. Use on-site complaints mechanisms as part of your enforcement strategy where possible. Consider less adversarial options such as a removal request to Twitter where a trade mark squatter's account has been left unused for six months. This will not only reduce the likely costs and difficulties associated with enforcement, but may be more kindly regarded by other users of the site.

7. Ensure that your brand management/marketing strategy for social networking sites is consistent with your overall brand management/marketing strategy. Social networking sites may be useful forums to provide updates regarding product or service offerings, special sales, problems your company may be experiencing, help or tips regarding special features or breaking news, and may also be a useful means of directly responding to queries and criticisms from customers if you can do so in the forum. They may also be a useful means of driving traffic to your website, but since the customer has elected to visit the social networking page rather than your website, there needs to be an additional offering to warrant this use. Ideally, that offering should engage participants on the site and encourage a dialogue. If you would prefer to market your goods or services via static content or in a usual advertising format that doesn't invite interaction or a conversation, more conventional advertising options or a simple website may be a preferable option. Other than avoiding piracy of marks, there is little benefit in establishing a social networking presence simply for the sake of it and it may actually cause brand damage.

8. Ensure that your use of social networking sites is consistent with the "customs" of each social networking community. Most sites will expect users to observe some form of etiquette, which may include not "friending" large numbers of people until you have an established presence, or taking a robust approach to the acceptance of criticism. At minimum, most users will react poorly to any conduct which appears automatically generated, or which solely consists of links to your website. A good general rule is to watch posts from other users for a set period to check acceptable conduct, and to only start actively inviting interaction from other users once you have a few posts to legitimise your presence. Bear in mind that social networking sites are premised on a dialogue model rather than unilateral direction of content, so simple one-way advertising messages will not be the most effective use of social networking sites or welcomed by users.

9. Consider the impact of individual social networking site policies on your use of the sites. For example, Twitter may delete unused accounts after six months. Even if you are only registering usernames as a defensive measure, you will need to include and update content to maintain the registration. If you are taking this option, it might be preferable to avoid inviting interaction from other users, otherwise you risk not being taken seriously based on lack of content.

10. Register key trade marks in all juridisctions where used so you have other options to enforce your rights.