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To tweet or not to tweet: advice on social media

There is a big misconception about Twitter, said the company’s Global Brand Protection Manager, Jillian West, during yesterday’s In-house Practitioners Workshop.

“People hear Twitter and they think about their own trademarks and get angry,” said West. “But social media can be the victim too.”

While many trademark owners view sites such as Twitter and Facebook as threats, West said it is important that people remember there are policies in place to help, and outlined her company’s own strategies for tackling impersonators and infringers. For example, West managed to get Twitter Latina, Twitter Français, Teen Twitter and Twitter Korea all taken down without having to pursue legal action. “We always reach out directly first, and in almost all instances that works,” said West.

In the case of Teen Twitter, the site was set up by a well-meaning teenager who wanted to target his own demographic. It took a lot of back and forth and explanation of trademark and IP rights to get it taken down, but West said that it was well worth the effort. “We avoided the PR disaster of being viewed as a bully,” she said.

While Scott Augenbaum of the Federal Bureau of Investigation pointed out that social media can be a gateway to crimes such as identity theft, Adam Palmer of Symantec Corporation stressed that living in fear of social media sites is the wrong approach. “These are good systems that are being abused,” he said. But the scale of the abuse has many lawyers’ and in-house counsel trembling all the same. According to Palmer, there was US$308 billion lost to cybercrime last year, and more victims of cybercrime in 2011 than newborn babies.

Despite the numbers, Palmer said that banning social media is not the answer. For many brands it is not even an option, since platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are quickly becoming an integral marketing tool.

Karen Webb of Fenwick & West said there is a balance that can be achieved between social media platforms and brand owners. The key points are to have the proper policies in place, to be an “early adapter,” to utilize platform policies and to carefully consider when to potentially embrace or simply ignore infringement or impersonators. Staying on top of such issues can help brand owners to use social media to gain competitive advantage.

“The reality is that cybercriminals move at the speed of light, but we move at the speed of law,” said Palmer.

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