Trademark Advisory: Promoting Your Brand - and Protecting It - on Social Networking Sites

Everyone is using social media these days, even President Barack Obama. On January 18, 2010, President Obama became the first U.S. President to “tweet” when he sent a message on Twitter announcing his arrival at the American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C. Politicians, celebrities, and businesses are increasingly recognizing that social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, provide effective forums to engage existing and potential voters, fans, and consumers.

Recent studies confirm what many businesses have long suspected: potential consumers are wary of paid advertisements and are more likely to trust the opinions of consumers who have previously purchased the product or service advertised. Therefore, conversations among consumers directly affect consumer perception about the quality and performance of a brand. Thus, many businesses have opted to be a part of the conversation by participating directly in blogs and various social media outlets. Starbucks, Target, Whole Foods, Zappos, Coca-Cola, and Ford are just a few of the companies that have seized the opportunity to interact directly with consumers (or fans) through social media outlets. This trend is not surprising given the dramatic surge in use of social media among teens and adults alike. For example, Facebook reports that it has more than 300 million active users, with the fastest growing demographic being those 35 years old or older. The Wall Street Journal reported in May 2009 that Twitter had 32.1 million users, up from 1.6 million a year ago. It is estimated that approximately 17% of all time spent on the Internet is spent on social networking sites. There is no question that social networking sites provide new opportunities for businesses to promote their brands online. They also provide new challenges to businesses seeking to protect those brands—and their trademarks—from infringement by unauthorized and unrelated users.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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