The burgeoning world of social media could be a huge threat to your brand if not managed properly. On the other hand, the world of social media may be the biggest marketing opportunity in years. The difference is all in how proactive you are in protecting yourself by becoming part of the broader social networking community.
Social networking sites offer avenues for you to grow closer to your customers. Some have become popular and effective online locations for corporate, as well as personal activities. Companies find that building communities around customer loyalty programs, fan cultivation and customer service all benefit from an active, well-publicized social networking presence.
As with any site that relies largely on user-generated content, these sites can provide opportunities for bad actors to abuse intellectual property and hijack brands. These threats are not always caused by those trying to harm your company, and in fact they can be the unintentional damage caused by your best and most loyal customers and fans.
Not So Fast With That Cease and Desist
One well-publicized example of this very problem occurred when the television cable network AMC found that the name of a character from its popular “Mad Men” series, “Don Draper,” was being used by a fan on Twitter. While AMC was able to recover its character’s name, the negative publicity could have been avoided by being proactive.
Setting things right isn’t as simple as sending an offender a cease-and-desist letter. Many times, this correspondence can become exposed to the public, offending the community and turning into a public relations disaster.
However, there’s a better way. By proactive engagement on social media sites and in the blogosphere, you can build a community of followers who will strengthen your brand, improve customer loyalty, enhance customer service and build your fan base.
Sign Up and Search Out
First, sign up for the leading social media sites, even if you aren’t sure they really apply to you. In addition to the well-known general interest sites, there are others that may apply to your specific area of business, especially if you have a high public profile in media, entertainment or travel.
Second, search for every brand name you want to protect, including your company name, the names of your products, characters, spokespersons (or spokes critters, as the case may be) and any other intellectual property you may have out there. While you’re at it, sign up for user names using each of these. Where possible, create user communities on a site.
Third, if you find that there’s an infringement of your intellectual property, start with a low-key effort. Initially, find out who is using the name you want to protect — maybe it’s one of your own employees. To proceed, review the terms of service of the site, then request that your brand be protected. The big sites protect brand holder rights, but you have to go through the process.
Make a Plan, Make a Community
Fourth, define who in your organization is responsible for your brand presence on social networking sites and in the blogosphere. This may be your legal department, which will need to track your presence on each site, hold the names and passwords, and work with you on your plans for interaction. Then assign someone to monitor each site, and actively create and promote communities around your brand. This may be your public relations department or your customer service department.
Fifth, actively and positively engage your customers, fans or users. You might, for example, create a special logo for approved fan sites. Or you might create a customer service site. You can release factoids or status updates. Regardless of the site, the goal is to create a sense of community so that you’re looked on as a positive presence.
Sixth, plan for the future. Register product, character or other public names that affect your intellectual property before they become public. If you have a new product you’re about to release, a new character in a television show, a video game, movie, or even a commercial, make sure you have that name registered everywhere first.
Finally, make sure that you supervise your employees who might be using your brand names or other intellectual property in social networking situations so they keep a positive image, avoid engaging in misleading activities, and keep the marketing and legal departments in the loop.
As long as this list is, it’s just a start. You’ll need to monitor the blogosphere for the presence of your intellectual property. While you can’t stop people from talking about your company, its products or its trademarks, you can stop efforts by bloggers and others to appropriate your intellectual property either by appearing to represent your company or by misrepresenting your activities.
Of course, you need to be prepared for the possibility that your brand name is already being used legitimately by someone else. For example, if the person using “Don Draper” on Twitter had actually been a real person with that name, AMC may have had little legal recourse beyond negotiating with the person for the use of the name. The best means of prevention is to be as proactive as possible, and when issues arise (such as another legitimate user) find a solution before it becomes a problem.
If it sounds like brand management in the social networking world is a lot of work, that’s because it is. However, you can leverage necessary brand management efforts into a positive force for your brand, your intellectual property and your company. What’s more, you can use that leverage to develop communities that enhance your brand, work to spread your name in a positive way, and provide new, effective pathways for two-way interaction with your customers, users and those who are otherwise interested in your organization.
Still, there is work involved, and as far as tracking brand misuse is concerned, there are services available that will help you track misuse and help you decide which sites you need to pay attention to. Meanwhile, your company can focus on social networking as a new opportunity to drive your positive image.
Frederick Felman is chief marketing officer for MarkMonitor.