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February 3, 2014

It is said that in the marketing industry that companies no longer own their brands,

customers do.

While that’s a nice catchphrase, the reality is that legally and financially a company DOES own its brand. And much of the control of that brand lies with employees. The Pinkerton team offers the following recommendations for how to secure your brand by implementing employee policies regarding social media.

What’s the Social Media Policy on That?

While companies like Nike, Coca-Cola and IBM are known to have well-defined policies and guidelines that dictate how their brand assets - things like their name, logos, symbols, and images, can be used on social media, we are always surprised that many more companies do not. Loose wording that does little to specifically address social media is a major problem. For example, is it permissible for an employee to share a photo from their office, and of co-workers, on their personal social media profiles? Can they share the company’s logo? What is the corporate social media policy and how is it enforced when an employee shares all or part of an internal document or e-mail socially? While these may seem like small issues, they can lead to trouble if there is any kind of incident with the employee.

We always recommend that companies clearly define how the company’s brand assets can be used by employees through a clear set of social media guidelines. It should be made clear that using an image or logo, for example, on social media is prohibited unless authorized by a supervisor, legal and/or the company’s brand manager. Without that approval, the sharing of these assets could be considered a trademark infringement violation and result in termination. Internal documents, to include all communications forms including social media posts and text messages using company-issued phones, also need a set of rules governing their use and sharing. These rules protect a company for when/if a situation arises that a disgruntled employee decides to make public a document that could have a significant impact on the company’s stock price, employee/partner relations and consumer confidence.

Good Reviews Are Not Always Good

One situation for which most companies don’t have a strong policy is endorsements by employees on social platforms.  One might think that an employee who posts a great review about the company would not be putting the company at risk. However, the Federal Trade Commission recently updated their guidelines for endorsements to include language about blogs and social media, which of course hadn’t been considered when the original guidelines were written in 1980. Companies should be aware of these guidelines and make it clear to all employees that posting reviews or endorsing the company’s products without disclosing that they are a company employee are not acceptable.  For example:

An employee finds a blog that focuses on your company’s industry. The blogger writes a negative review of your product. Your employee writes a response, countering the negative review with many positive remarks about the product but does not disclose their affiliation with your company. He has just violated this part of the FTC guidelines:

If there’s a connection between the endorser and the marketer of the product that would affect how people evaluate the endorsement, it should be disclosed.

Knowing these guidelines and making all employees aware of them will help prevent issues that could arise.

Social Media Spreads Like Wildfire; Put it Out with Social Media Guidelines for Your Business

Social media connects so many people in so many new ways and information is faster than ever. However, social media also offers an opportunity for the dissemination of two negative elements: viruses and false information.

Most of us think of computer viruses are those that get spread through e-mails, especially with accounts via online e-mail services such as Google and Yahoo. However, an increasing number of penetrations of company servers are taking place through social networks, with Facebook being the most offending platform. Rogue ads disguised as normal looking Facebook posts or ads contain malware that can infect a company’s entire computer system are becoming more common. In an ideal word, a company could reduce this risk by prohibiting employees from accessing social networks during work hours and using company-owned computers. But the real world situation is that employees cannot be controlled like that, especially when so many rely on social media to communicate professionally. Consistently reminding employees about the dangers of clicking on unknown links or suspicious ads will help to prevent larger problems.

Inaccurate Information Moves Fast

A problem on a different level is the spread of information that could be damaging to your company. A tweet that shares inaccurate sales figures, a Facebook post that includes an out-of-context e-mail directive or a video that makes false claims can move like lightening through social networks. Controlling it is a challenge if you don’t know about it from the start. We regularly help companies monitor social media for mentions of the company so that rogue posts can quickly be squelched before they go mainstream and affect stock prices, reputation and operations. We will also help to find from where the information originated so that the offending user can be identified. Most social networks have a way to alert them to spammers or those who are abusing others, including companies, via their network so that they offending user can be banned. The process can take several week or months so a company will need to address the issue in the meantime.

Social media is a huge issue for employers and brands. While it’s nearly impossible to monitor everything that goes on related to a company’s business, it is important to put social media policies, procedures, and guidelines in place to stem the tide of our increasingly social world and the negative impact it can have on your business.

Social Media Policy