Social media is essential to the success of fashion brands. It enables direct contact with customers and the ability to craft a much more personal brand identity. Indeed with the rise of integrated sales on platforms like Facebook, in addition to publicity and advertising, social media has now become a major shopping channel in itself.
This means it is more important than ever to understand your rights and restrictions when using different forms of social media.
What can go wrong?
Social media is an incredible tool and there are huge opportunities for the network effect to quickly share your brand far and wide. Fashion United analyses social followings on an annual basis and shows that the top ten fashion brands are usually spread fairly evenly between sportswear, High Street, and luxury.
However, the benefits of social media also mean that negative messages and brand hijacking can both occur incredibly quickly. Recently we have seen examples of a viral video of negative treatment of customers (United Airlines), Twitter asking whether the CEO of United Airlines is going to blame the bunny for its own death, as well as the Twitter response to a poorly conceived advertising campaign (Pepsi).
But giant bunnies don’t pop up a lot in everyday life. In practice, the more common issues tend to revolve around:
- “parody” accounts which many customers believe is you;
- “sucks” accounts where a user uses your brand name to throw shade on your business;
- disgruntled former employees sharing sensitive or even confidential information;
- a competitor hijacking your hashtag for a comparative advertising campaign; or
- an intern using photographs (or other copyright works) on your social media account without getting your permission.
So what is to be done in the event of a social media crisis?
Have you registered your brand as a trade mark?
The more extensive your trade mark portfolio the easier it is to use your trade marks to protect your brand online.
This is because most platforms will respond to take down requests where there is a trade mark owner anywhere in the world but some will look quite closely at the goods and services registered and may offer leniency to non-identical marks or purported parody accounts.
It follows that it is essential for fashion brands to register their names and logos as trade marks as early as possible and for all relevant jurisdictions (usually the home market, other core markets, place of manufacture, EU, USA, and China).
If you have a hashtag which is strongly associated with you – even if it is one you only use for seasonal campaigns, consider registering the hashtag as a trade mark as well. For example, Lululemon has registered #TheSweatLife and Stefanel has registered #FeelMore.
Even if you don’t think it is worth registering a campaign name, slogan or hashtag as a trade mark, make sure you run a clearance check before starting to use it. This should include a social media availability search to see if the name is available to be registered on your key social media platforms. You want to minimise the chances of an infringement claim.
Once the name is chosen (or even when you are still deciding which account to use), make sure you have secured all social media accounts (Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook etc.) as early as possible. Even if you think that a social media platform is not going to be a core account for you. Consider registering it anyway as well as any obvious variations. It is quick and easy to register an account but time consuming and expensive to recover one.
If conflicting marks appear following the trade mark or social media clearance search consider using a new name. In some circumstances it may be possible to buy the trade mark or account name.
Trade marks are very helpful in terms of both stopping online infringement and obtaining verified status for accounts.
Have you got a clear social media policy in place?
It is never too early to prepare a social media policy. For more information on what a social media policy should include, please read our recent article.
A social media policy can reduce the need to check every post and can actually give social media managers more latitude as there are clear guidelines in place as to what is acceptable. This should be accompanied by dedicated training to make sure the policy is actually read and understood.
This should apply to both people posting to your official social media channels and employees who may represent your business on their personal social media accounts. The policy should be clear about the consequences for employees who breach the policy.
It should cover issues such as what content can be used (ideally there will be a list of pre-approved images).
Often photographs which are taken by external photographers for campaigns have a limited licence period. It is important that you ensure that these images can be used on social media indefinitely.
Avoid any unnecessary risks
Consider vetting all official posts prior to posting.
Be careful about the use of third party bloggers or endorsements. Make sure that the blogger or endorser makes it clear that they have been paid (whether in money or products). On Instagram and Twitter the ASA encourages the use of #ad or #sponsored to identify these posts.
Think carefully and take legal advice if you want to run a campaign which compares your brand or products to a competitor (or might allude to another brand).