When looking at copyright laws it is important to understand how and when it is appropriate for a brand or corporation to take action against violators of the brand or trademark. Often times brands seek to control all messaging that comes from them. While this is important to control the messages people are creating about your brand, it’s not always the best choice to completely shut down a rogue Twitter account or blog postings.
Customer relations are becoming increasingly social when it comes to how companies are able to respond and interact with consumers. Earlier this semester there was an incident with an apartment complex in Denton called The Grove. To give a brief overview; several residents were standing on a balcony that collapsed. As a response to this residents of Denton and students at the University of North Texas began to respond and comment on the event on The Grove’s official Facebook page and via Twitter. The Grove’s response was to simply shut those outlets completely down--a form of censorship.
Due to the actions of The Grove, the community was outraged at the fact that they didn’t take the opportunity to actually converse with the enraged students. Essentially their censorship of these comments led to even more negative feedback and severely damaged the reputation and credibility of the apartment complex. Though it was completely within the rights of The Grove to do so, the action ended up causing more harm than good.
A better solution for brands who are dealing with social media commentary by their consumers is to actually work with them. At the end of the day the consumer is the ultimate representation of a brand, and by addressing their grievances instead of censoring them, a lot more can be accomplished to increase brand loyalty.
One way that this has been addressed is through companies that have seen parody accounts arise that mock the brands. The most well known instance of this is the fake BP twitter account @BPGlobalPR. This account was created as a mockery of the BP oil spill and contained some outrageous Tweets that were not representative of what the company wanted.
Due to copyright laws and the terms of service Twitter has in place BP probably could have gotten the account terminated and removed, however, they chose not to do so. A BP spokesman told the Wall Street Journal “"It’s a shame, but obviously people are entitled to their views.” In my opinion this was a good move on behalf of BP. Though they had the right to take action against this account, they were already facing negative publicity, and attacking a rogue consumer would only have brought more negative backlash from consumers.
A similar social media parody situations have occurred within public universities including UNT. Earlier this Fall a parody Twitter by the name of @OfficialUNT sprung up and tweeted some pretty humorous satire about our beloved university. According to an OpEd piece published in the NTDaily by UCRM, UNT’s marketing arm, they decided that the best course of action would be to reach out to this fake account before taking actions to have them shut down.
As a result of this @OfficialUNT changed their Twitter handle to @unOFFICIALUNT. According to UCRM “in the spirit of education and practicing ‘social good,’ [they] choose collaboration over dictation.” I believe this is the way that every company should act in this way. As a result of this the rogue Twitter account is still allowed to operate and give the UNT brand a more human characteristic than official communication channels might bring.
Another article in the NTDaily said that “Through it all, their hubris and parody of Denton, its schools, and its people give off a roundabout endearing quality, reminding their followers that we can laugh about Denton because we love Denton.”
It is clear to viewers that this account is not associated with any official university communication, however it still serves to bring awareness of the brand in a unique way. Tweets like “Don’t forget: Every Friday is Pride Day. Wear red to support the winning team! #untcares,” bring awareness to certain university events that otherwise would might not reach everyone. The Tweets also give the university administration a good idea of what issues are relevant to the students.
Similar fake Twitters have been popping up at several universities and the response by most has been quite similar. At the University of Georgia several of these fake accounts have popped up. Some of them have been shut down because they weren’t clearly parody, others have been allowed to exist.
Kate Burkholder, the Assistant Director of Sports Communications and Social Media, said “I don’t necessarily think there’s much cause to worry, because they say they are fake accounts. But we will continue to monitor them.” What she has to say is true. There is not a real need to police these accounts, however it is important to strengthen the brand sponsored accounts so that the consumer will know what to believe and not believe. Georgia has done so by adding “the official account of [Coach X].” to it’s official coach accounts.
While it is ok to let fake accounts operate, it is equally important to respond to them as to avoid any market confusion. In a media landscape where brand identities are social in nature, it is important to respond with caution. The immediate citation of copyright and trademark laws, and use of censorship has the potential to damage the brand much more than it originally was damaged.