In today’s Web 2.0 world, businesses are faced with new ways to spread their presence and advertise their products and services, and the Internet is an effective and powerful tool for brand marketing. As companies explore new ways to advertise online, it has become clear that brand marketing has gone beyond buying ad space on popular search engines and other informational sites to actively engaging with their consumers in conversations and sharing information. Now companies must adopt social networks as a marketing strategy.

Social networking sites have a continuous growth of members. Facebook, for example, is estimated to have more than 350 million active users. Twitter now has around 32.1 million users. MySpace attracts about 115 million people to its site each month. With such a wide ready consumer base, how have companies used these social networking sites to their advantage? As companies move towards the cyber frontier, how they protect their brands is critical. To help companies police their brands and harness the power of social media, these social media giants have implemented mechanisms to help protect against fraud, phishing, and rights infringement. After all, social media strategies only work if everyone follows the same rules.

Social media as a marketing tool

Facebook, the largest social networking site, is a good example of how social networking sites have become an effective marketing tool for businesses. Facebook has developed its website to allow Pages, customizable mini-sites targeting organizations, products, or public figures, to join the conversation with Facebook users. A page essentially allows fans to become brand advocates. It allows users to post comments, view news and information about a certain product, and learn more about a company. Companies have jumped on this viral form of advertising.

Facebook now has more than 1.6 million active pages. Over 700,000 local businesses have created Pages to reach their target demographic. In fact, it is estimated that the pages have created more than 5.3 billion fans. The page form on Facebook requires that the creator of the page be the official representative of an organization, business, celebrity, or brand. As such, the representative becomes the Page Organizer, able to add and remove content, manage the information that appears on the site, and increase the viral effects of advertising. Each page (depending on the type of organization selected) comes equipped with preselected formatting options, such as tabs for discussion boards, events, organization information, and photos. The Information tab, for example, allows you to share key information about your company, such as the website, mission, business overview, and products. Fans can post comments on a company’s wall, watch videos, and read about upcoming events or promotions. Whenever a page has activity, such as posts or ads, this activity becomes visible in NewsFeed. Information about your fans regarding their activities on your page is also available for their friends to see, opening the door for others to become fans of your page.

This is what causes the viral nature of advertising on Facebook. Businesses can tap into this marketplace and gain valuable insights from tools like Facebook Insights, which includes data on fan engagement with posts on a business page. Companies have also “opened shops” on Twitter and MySpace. Some companies have launched official Twitter accounts and allow (or require) employees to post daily or weekly tweets, often about promotions or events.

The interesting thing about these sites is that there is no filter that blocks negative or unflattering information. As such, questions arise about what a company can do once an angry “fan” or follower posts negative comments on a wall, a disgruntled former employee opens a page in their name, or someone poses as a representative of their company. stating your company name or brand as your username.

Social networking sites and their terms of use

The easiest and most cost-effective way to protect a brand on social networking sites is to use the site’s dispute resolution mechanism. Most of the social media giants have procedures for filing complaints about copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and privacy issues.

Facebook: The Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities asks users to agree that they are the rightful owners of all content and information they post on Facebook. They are also asked to agree that they will not create accounts for anyone without your permission. Users may not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes or violates the rights of others or otherwise violates the law, and Facebook reserves the right to remove content or remove a web page that violates those rights. Facebook provides its users with tools to help address intellectual property issues. Most of these tools are forms that are submitted electronically.

Twitter: Twitter’s rules specifically state that they do not monitor user content and will not censor such content except in limited circumstances. Twitter does not allow identity theft that confuses, misleads or deceives others or has the intent to do so. However, ways to monitor such impersonation have proven to be a problem for Twitter, as their biggest concern is fake accounts. Twitter also reserves the right to claim usernames on behalf of companies or individuals that have legal rights or trademarks in those usernames. To prevent name squatting, Twitter suspends accounts that are inactive for more than six months.

Business owners who use social networking sites should read the terms of use to be well informed about the protective actions these companies have put in place to help control brands. It’s a new world of marketing, and better tools can lead to greater risks if a company isn’t careful. Just as businesses benefit from social networking sites, social networks rely on businesses to harness their power. It is a symbiotic relationship and must be protected.

For additional information on social media law and brand and trademark protection on social media, please visit our website.

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