How to protect your brand on social media

SNAPCHAT®, LINKEDIN®, FACEBOOK®, INSTAGRAM®, TIKTOK® are an ingrained part of everyday life for many. But how do you, as the owner of a trademark, ensure that your rights are not used in unfortunate contexts on social media?

Most companies use social media to promote their visibility; many even encourage their employees to promote the company on their own, private platforms. So how do you draw a line?

The social media are private companies with rules for use and misuse. But in the gray area you will find thoughtless or well-intentioned use. For example, when employees upload pictures where a logo is clearly visible, or refer to the company by name in negative contexts.

That problem arose e.g. a few years ago, when a MCDONALD’S® restaurant drew attention to itself to such an extent that it made headlines both at DR and Berlingske.

Prior to the headlines, the employees at MCDONALD’S® had held a staff party in the restaurant’s premises. During the evening, explicit photos of the festivities were uploaded to an open Facebook group for employees. Subsequently, MCDONALD’S® stated that the images merely showed that it was a fun place to work – and then went to great lengths to have the images removed.

With clear guidelines for the use of social media, MCDONALD’S® might have avoided the media attention. It is therefore our clear recommendation that, as the rights holder of a trademark or other, you ensure that you have a written policy for the use of social media.

Freedom of speech versus trademark rights

Facebook groups for former employees of a company often, and quite naturally, use the company’s name or logo.

In such cases, some very basic rights apply. At the top is the right to freedom of speech, where one must always remember what is written in small print: that it is with responsibility. Next, the trademark right, which is an exclusive right where the owner alone can decide where, how, and in which contexts a trademark is used. And finally, there is the relationship between the employee and the employer.

As a start, you have to expect that unfortunate pictures are on the Internet forever. And for companies, the damage to their image, brand, or goodwill is often irreversible. When it is “out”, you are no longer in control. Even if the “right to be forgotten” has been adopted for individuals in the EU.

That’s why we recommend drawing up a brand strategy before anything happens. And you can start by asking yourself the following questions:

  •  If the employees mention the company publicly, within what framework should this be done?
  • What are the sensitive issues for the employer and brand owner?
  • What are the security risks?
  • Is there a difference between statements or images in open or closed forums, sense of loyalty, consequences related to employment law?
  • In which contexts, is the use of the name and/or logo permitted?
  • Can a Facebook group for former employees use the logo? And what if the group is closed?

The point is that you, as the owner, have the right and thus control over your intellectual property rights. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the possible consequences. Below you can find a checklist of the first steps you can take.

A checklist for when you need to secure your brand on social media

  • Create a social media policy and an internal IP strategy
  • Outline values, expectations, and motives
  • Create an internal understanding of possible harmful effects
  • Make the ownership of the company’s IP rights clear, and clarify where the limit for use should be drawn

Do you or your company need advice in relation to trademark protection? Contact our experts or write to us via our contact form.