This post is an excerpt from the World Trademark Review roundtable featuring practical advice from noted global trademark practitioners. The panelists address how to protect your brand in Web 2.0. Given the importance of social media for most brands, you may need to create a resilient social media strategy for your own brand. The ideas that follow are the advice they give their global trademark clients, yours for the reading! Make certain to implement these in your own Brand Guide Lines.
The panelists discuss how to protect your brand in Web 2.0
Q. What are the fundamental elements to include in an internal social media policy and how should the policies be communicated to staff?
Matt Sammon—Matts & Clerk
It is certainly important to have clear guidelines on how a brand should be represented, whether on a personal or a company social media account. Personal accounts must be clearly identified as such to avoid confusion over whether opinions or advice are given in a professional capacity or a personal one. The ramifications and procedure for abuse of this policy need to be clear. However, any policy should be flexible enough to evolve along with the nature of social media.
Communicating this policy to employees is key. It is far better to avoid problems before they occur and to ensure that employees are clear on what is expected of them as far as social media is concerned. Any policy needs to be addressed before employment contracts are signed, but it should also be communicated regularly following initial employment to remind employees of their responsibilities.
Julia Anne Matheson—Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner
The goal is to create an accessible company-wide policy through which employees can judge their activity online and understand the basic rules of engagement. Key components include the need to:
- cover employees top to bottom;
- cover professional and public use of social media;
- cover web name registration;
- cover writing social media content on the company’s behalf;
- cover authorship of content unrelated to the company but showing company affiliation; and
- clarify who specifically has the authority to write content on the company’s behalf.
The policy needs to remind employees about information that should never be discussed outside work, including sales data and plans, company financial results, product launch information, engineering and technology roadmaps, customer or partner information and other things considered confidential. The best approach is to make the policy part of the employee handbook/written code of conduct.
Malia Horine—Corporation Service Company
With regard to personal behavior, it is important to remind employees to exercise caution when mixing personal life and business, and to take responsibility for their own actions, particularly when talking about their employers. They should be mindful of the company code of conduct and be aware of brand integrity issues, reporting any problems when they encounter them. And, of course, they need to own their own opinions. When employees are interacting on behalf of the company, they must first acknowledge this. Then, it is important that they follow correct trademark and copyright practices and stick to any social media communications and records management policies. Finally, they need to follow relevant regulatory practices – for example, determining the lockdown status of individual sites and whether comments are allowed.
To protect your brand in Web 2.0, the policy must be clear and consistent. Specifically, each employee:
- must ensure that he or she publishes a disclaimer stating that he or she is speaking for himself or herself and not on behalf of the company, and that the views stated do not necessarily represent the company’s position or opinions on the subject;
- must ensure that the company’s trademarks are not used in any posts unless specific permission has been obtained;
- must ensure that he or she respects IP laws and does not infringe, inadvertently or otherwise, the intellectual property of the company or that of third parties;
- should respect privacy, fair use and other applicable laws while posting online;
- must respect the sensitive nature of confidential information in his or her possession and take all steps not to divulge it; and
- must ensure that he or she is politically correct in all posts made online and does not hurt the sentiments of any particular community.
Sasch Abrar—Löffel Abrar
Each employee should be informed as to how he or she should deal with social media correctly from the viewpoint of the company. For this purpose, employees should be told to point out in personal profiles that any statements are private and do not relate to the company. Moreover, employees should be asked to ensure that any opinions expressed within the scope of their personal or professional profiles do not damage the company.
A social media policy must define, among other things, who is in charge of corporate communications on social media (eg, Twitter) and, crucially, how other employees can reach these people quickly. Moreover, a social media policy must identify things that managers should bear in mind in when communicating via social media, including: politeness, accurate, objective handling of criticism, responses to questions by other users and limits in that respect (eg, protection of trade secrets).
This excerpt first appeared in the June/July 2014 edition of World Trademark Review and was published with the permission. To learn more from the experts on how to protect your brand: Read the full article.
The panelists appearing in the roundtable may be reached:
Matt Sammon, UK Head of Trademarks
Marks & Clerk
Julia Anne Matheson, Partner
Malia Horine, Global Director of monitoring and enforcement services
Corporation Service Company
Pooja Dodd, Lawyer
Sascha Abrar, Partner