Virtual World: Your Trademark and Social Media

global connectivityBenefits of Using Social Media
When you use a social media site, you are no longer the only brand builder. By engaging with consumers on social media sites, you will change the brand either positively and negatively. In general, brand recognition tends to be amplified on social media. Here are some benefits of building your brand through social media:
• Maximizes brand exposure: Trademarks that have secondary meaning associated with them have the strongest protection because consumers clearly perceive the brand as a source indicator. Social media can expedite secondary meaning acquisition.
• Lower marketing costs: The effectiveness of social media campaigns can render other forms of media moot, reducing your marketing costs.
• Search engine optimization: The more popular you are on social media sites, the more prominent your search results online. Notoriety in one online site may serve as a catalyst to increase your popularity in others.
• Humanizes the company: While your brand may present your professional image, your social media site can have an entire persona that humanizes you in the eyes of your consumers. Consistent interaction with your audience can build a loyal following.
• Consumer feedback: You can conduct market research on social media sites to modify your products to better fit consumer needs.
• Business networking: You also have the choice of interacting with other businesses to build your professional image.
Relationship with Social Media Platform
Social media platform agreements are non-negotiable, unilateral contracts that give the social media sites broad rights over your trademark. While social media sites do not necessarily benefit from repelling businesses from exercising its full contractual rights, understanding and adapting to agreement is important. Consider the following aspects of your relationship with the social media site:
• Use of your trademark: Social media sites often allow other users to interact with your posts. For example, Youtube allows users to use, reproduce, distribute, display and perform your uploads and Twitter allows users to use, reproduce, and create derivative works from your uploads. You no longer have exclusive rights to your work on that site, which limits quality control of your brand online.
• Licensing issues: Social media sites are international but you may have a territorial restriction on your use of the trademark through a license. Social media postings may conflict with third party trademark licensing agreements.
• Indemnification: You often have to promise social media sites an arm and a leg to compensate them for any injury you might cause. Know what you are promising before using these sites.
• Unlimited amendments with little or no notice: You promise to allow social media sites to change their policies and procedures at any point for any reason. This change may come with little or no notice to you, but you still have an obligation to abide by these new changes. While social media sites will probably not abuse this right or risk losing business interests, you still need to monitor these changes and respond accordingly.
Relationship with Users
• Inadvertent infringers: In some ways the inadvertent infringers are harder to manage than intentional infringers. There are many fans of your trademark who may not understand the legal ramifications of the improper use of your trademark. You want to maintain a positive relationship and continue to build rapport with your consumers while protecting your trademark rights. For example, two fans of Coca-Cola started a Facebook fan site without the company’s knowledge and accumulated millions of fans; it became one of the most popular sites on Facebook. As the company did not start the page, they had no control over the content or trademark use. Instead of sending a cease and desist, Coca-Cola contacted the fans that started the site and partnered with them to manage the page. It is important to educate your consumers and communicate with them to ensure the proper use of your trademark on social media sites.
• Cyber squatters: Even if you choose not to form a business page for your social media site, you must still monitor these sites for infringers. Imposters may use your business name for their own purposes online and social media sites do not necessarily filter out all imposters. Cyber squatters can do significant damage to your reputation and consumer good will in a relatively short amount of time. You should report such abuse to the social media site or send cease and desist letters to enforce your rights.
Social media can be a great tool for growing your business, but it can also harm it. Connect your trademark lawyer with your social media and marketing staff to ensure that your business is protected.

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