According to Wikipedia "A social network is a social structure made up of a set of social actors (such as individuals or organizations), sets of dyadic ties, and other social interactions between actors. The social network perspective provides a set of methods for analyzing the structure of whole social entities as well as a variety of theories explaining the patterns observed in these structures. The study of these structures uses social network analysis to identify local and global patterns, locate influential entities, and examine network dynamics".
Social networks as such, have always existed, but face-to-face and traditionally in small groups with a specific common interest. Today, the most intensive, most active and international social networks are on-line. And you can be sure that, whether you like it or not, your or your clients' trademarks will be out there, discussed, advertised and criticized. By 2017, about 81 percent of North Americans had at least one social media profile (according to: Edison Research, Triton Digital).
The Association of Swedish Advertisers (Sveriges Anonsörer) published a research result in December 2017, showing that social networking providers were the trademarks that had the majority of references in both traditional media and online. During 2017, Facebook was referred to 375 000 times in online and offline medias in Sweden, followed by Twitter (305 900), Instagram (304 000), and Youtube (157 300). At No 5 on the list is AIK (123 900 references), a well-know Swedish sport club. No 6 is ICA, a Swedish corporate group in the food retail business (105 500 references), followed by Google (101 400), Volvo (98 100), H&M (87 000) and IKEA (83 500).
The research result is just counting on the number of references, without considering if those are positive or negative. However, the football team at AIK had a rather successful year ending as No 2 in the Swedish professional league, thereby also getting a lot of attention in social media. ICA is running advertisements on Swedish television several times a day in the form of a humorous soap opera each featuring the staff at one ICA shop somewhere in Sweden. This, combined with a new e-commerce platform, has made ICA one of the most well-known and popular trademarks in Sweden. Ikea has the same idea. It is already well known by the Swedish public that the company delivers innovative home furnishings at prices everyone can afford. In addition, in 2016 Ikea launched a television marketing campaign called "where life happens", showing its role in people's everyday life. These are just some examples of trademarks that are used in a way that they are (mostly) positively discussed online, and thereby becoming a part of our "everyday life".
Whatever you do in your traditional off line and online marketing, everything may be quickly destroyed or – in the best cases – enormously strongly market, by independent social networks. The question is: How can you use this in the best possible way to make sure that your trademarks goodwill is not only kept, but even getting stronger?
Here are some dos and don'ts:
Create you own site at Facebook or similar
This is a "do!" – however only if you are well prepared to continuously update the content, and open to show your company also "behind the scenes". As long as you have control over the content, it is interesting for your customers to see the daily life in your office, factories and shops. Preferably also include a online customer service Q&A. And make sure that you handle your own company's Facebook site. Many social media sites use a 'first come, first served' registration policy, meaning that anyone can register any profile and use it to serve content to consumers. There are a number of examples when employees, customers or "supporters" have started something at Facebook that looks like your official site, but instead are their own personal site with comments and information that you have no control over. As Facebook describes itself: "a social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them".
How to deal with critical sites
From the domain name dispute cases all over the world, we have seen a number of cases when someone critical to your company try to spread "information" on you trademarks, goods and services. Depending on the site, there are several ways to handle this information:
A) By actively add official comments from your Marketing Department directly on the discussion site. This mostly the best way if the site is well visited. One example is when SJ, the market-leading train operating company in Sweden had difficulties with some stop in the train traffic. The customers complained openly in social media, but SJ was quick to comment directly, advising on the best way to find coffee bars, functional toilets at the trains and continuous update on the work done to open the lines. What could have been a negative campaign against the trademark SJ, thereby turned out to be a clear positive example that the company cares about their customers;
B) By having positive staff or customers to add positive comments (not recommended, customers are likely to see this as a negative try to misuse the social network):
C) By comment on your own official web site (can be practical, if the other comments are spread on many sites as well as recognized in traditional media; or
D) By doing nothing to reply, just follow the discussion to be updated (well used, and can work if you think the negative comment is just time limited and not recognized by others)
Social networks as a source to find pirate copies, etc
To actively follow discussions and recommendations regarding your trademarks on social networks, is a perfect way to find sources of misuse, get an idea of which legally perfect but competitive trademarked products customers refers to, as well as to find links to and recommendations of pirate copies and other misuse of your trademarks.
Social networks, blogs and similar sites as a part of your Marketing and PR Department
This is still a very popular way to advertise some type of products / trademarks, meaning: You send some samples of your products to a single persons blog, hoping that she or he will refer to your trademark when describing her/his daily routines. Such as:
"Oh, so nice! I just had a bath with [TRADEMARK] homespa products. You know that I love their makeup but their skin care products are also completely wonderful. Right now is a body scrub with a smell of coffee my favorite!"
The question is: Do the readers believe that popular blog writer just refer to her/his day-to-day use of certain goods, or is it obvious that it is pure marketing? And will such possible customers proceed to your own web site to learn more? Well, it depends on who is handling the blog – if it is a person that is generally followed by customers who want to do and live like the blogger, you may still get some more customers this way.
Finally: Social networks – as a way to solve IP disputes
If you have an ongoing dispute, shall you market your work and case online, making comments on the counterpart, and explain why you think you have a strong case to win? My recommendation is definitely: No!
A couple of examples from real life:
- A client was claimed by the counterpart to have infringed their rights. Once the other company had filed the lawsuit, they also went out online claiming that they had a strong case. It started an intensive debate in social networks, which lead to the judge to call both parties to a mediation session (which is otherwise still not common in Sweden) that ended in a positive solution for the client, with reduced damages and good advertising. Conclusion: a) Don not go out to too soon online with a conclusion that you have all the rights, and b) If the counterpart make this mistake, just sit and enjoy, as your legal position has thereby suddenly become much better.
- Another client wanted to stop an infringer that had used the trademark in a descriptive way. The infringer claimed in social media that this trademark was not distinctive in that way. It resulted in an enormous debate on social networks, where the client's trademark was intensively referred to. The result: If someone previously had questioned the distinctiveness of the trademark, it was indeed this way well "advertised" online and identified as a trademark of the client.
To summarise: The billion users of social networking are 24 hours of day your present and possible customers! Make sure that they always have your trademark in mind in a positive way.