McAfee & Taft tIPsheet - March 2013: Monitoring employees’ use of company trademarks in social media

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If you’re an employer, chances are good that you employ some of the 1.06 billion individuals who regularly use Facebook®, as well as some of the millions who regularly post to other popular social media websites. And, whether you realize it or not, those employees may be using those social media outlets to identify with your company, and your company’s trademarks.

When an employee uses a company’s trademarks in a social media platform, it creates a host of concerns for the employer. For example, an employee’s use of a mark may suggest a connection between the employer’s mark and the employee’s comments and other posts. Or, in more serious cases, an employee’s improper use of a mark could cause serious damage to the strength, reputation and goodwill associated with the mark.

So what can an employer do to protect its trademarks? Quite a bit. Although it’s impossible to monitor each and every social media website, the implementation of a social media policy that includes at least the following will go a long way in protecting your trademarks, and your company’s reputation.

The first and best way to defend your trademarks is through an employee training program. All employees should receive training on the proper and improper use of company trademarks. Provide a list of trademarks owned by the company and inform each employee that the trademarks belong to the company and should never be used without permission.

  • Next, monitor your employees’ use of social media websites on a consistent and regular basis. Inform your employees that you intend to monitor their use of social media websites and instruct any employee who makes unauthorized use of a company trademark to remove the mark immediately.
  • Take advantage of protective measures offered by the social media providers. If an employee refuses to take down a post using a protected mark, send a request to the social media provider advising them that the offending post makes improper use of your company’s property. You may also want to request that the provider remove any “community” or “unofficial” pages that have the potential to damage a protected mark.
  • Finally, in many cases, the best defense will be a good offense. By establishing company accounts on key social media websites, and using them regularly, you can ensure that the majority of users who see your mark will see it in the manner and context you intended. Limit the number of employees authorized to make posts to this account and ensure that those employees receive additional training on the proper and improper use of trademarks. Consider providing a number of approved, appropriately noticed images for use in connection with those accounts. Remember, anything you post to your company’s account can be liked, shared and re-tweeted countless times, so properly noticing your mark will help ensure continued protection of your mark when a post or image is re-broadcast by someone else.

Of course, your social media policy should take into account a number of individualized factors, such as the size of your company, the number of employees, and the ease with which your company can police the ever-expanding number of social media websites. But the steps listed above will form the building blocks of a policy that will help prevent the damaging use of protected marks, promote the proper use of those marks, and minimize the damage resulting from an employee’s inappropriate use.