22 Dec 2014

Keep the twit out of twitter

UK politician Emily Thornberry's career-costing tweet came as a shocking reminder of the pervading naievety around social media. Bernadette John reports on how cautious luxury companies are embracing social media.

Luxury companies are not rushing to tweet lculig

Many companies with sophisticated marketing machines have also made themselves a laughing stock through ill-advised social media.  When the bright idea arose to run a Twitter campaign ‘I shop at Waitrose because …’, no-one foresaw the posh-baiting that would ensue, with lines such as ‘because Clarissa’s pony will not eat Asda value straw’.  McDonald’s found itself lambasted by Twitter critics when it invited stories about dining there, and was later forced to admit that #mcdstories “did not go as planned”.

Any company using social media needs to accept that there will always remain a risk of campaigns going awry, and they need to have a crisis management plan in place to deal with it, says Alexandra McCready, associate at Schillings.

“It’s important for a brand or organisation which wants to use social media in a meaningful way to understand that, apart from through specific legal remedies, users can’t be controlled.  The companies need to plan for scenarios that can happen, if there are customer complaints or they are targeted by a campaign group.  There are situations where there is a legal remedy and there are those that fall between.  They need to accept the risks with the comfort of agreed plans in place for capturing and dealing with user content,” she says.

Facebook is the key platform for the lux sector, and this is one of the better ones because it allows brands to individually control their pages.  “Bespoke terms and conditions are really useful to better control how you engage with others, such as how complaints to the site are dealt with, and where it might be moved to private messaging so you can move unwanted traffic from the public area,” says McCready.

This also allows you to exercise discretion to delete malicious content.  Many brands aren’t aware that they can be regarded as a publisher of material on their website, and so will be liable for any defamatory content.  “They must have an effective take-down process, and the key to this is having your own house rules for removing content,” McCready says.

Should a situation arise where a brand is dealing with problem content and needs to take a complaint to the platform, it is important to know what will resonate with them, says McCready.  For example, when dealing with a US platform she says:  “To say that something is offensive, abusive or defamatory under UK law won’t hold sway.  Their thinking is influenced by the first amendment and ideas of free speech ingrained in the US.  Arguments based on an IP infringement are likely to be more effective.  If a campaign group has set up a Facebook page targeting the brand it might incorporate a trademark, copyright material, images from the brand’s website, or a photograph from the CEO’s Facebook page - all of those are protected by copyright.”

Other clangers come where brands are keen to promote the senior leadership as the face of the brand.  “When a business leader started his or her career they might have shared a lot on social media, which may not be good for the reputation of the business.  Once an executive is in the spotlight they will be subject to increased scrutiny, so you need to establish what is out there and, where appropriate and possible, take down contentious material,” she says.

Clients are amazed by what is uncovered in digital privacy investigations, she says, which may not be all of their own doing.  Consider teenage posters too – the media are likely to look at family Facebook pages, “and a picture of the chief executive on holiday on his yacht is not the image you want in the media when redundancies are being announced,” McCready says.

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