Risk vs. #AwardShow

How To Safely Engage On Social Media With Trending Events

It’s that time of year again when we all cross our fingers that Leo finally wins an Oscar. It’s also that time of year when brands try to engage with trending hashtags during award shows. However, as social media further embeds itself within marketing programs, marketers must understand the risk vs. the reward, or in this case, the award show.

DISCLAIMER: Despite what my friends might say about my stubbornness and debate skills, I’m not an attorney, nor is this post a complete guide to avoiding social media legal trouble. Any brand considering engaging with events, other brands or celebrities on behalf of a brand should work with both their marketing partner and legal counsel when coming up with their social strategy.

Many brands may see events like the Oscars, the Grammys, the Super Bowl, March Madness or the Olympics as opportunities for social media engagement. Before we tweet using the #Oscars or #Oscars2016 hashtags this Sunday, it’s important to know that this may not be allowed if your brand does not have a paid sponsorship with the Oscars. Because events require brands to pay for that level of affiliation (as Kohl’s is doing this year), there is a risk of “false association” for non-sponsoring brands who mention that event, its hashtags or any copyrighted/trademarked terms. False association is a legal term for implying a paid and/or endorsed connection between two brands (including celebrities). If a brand feels that another brand has implied a false association, that brand can issue a cease-and-desist letter or file a lawsuit for financial compensation.

Using the #Oscars (or #Oscars2016) hashtag or mentioning a celebrity doesn’t guarantee a brand will be sued or receive a cease-and-desist notice. For example, Apple didn’t take action when KitKat hashtagged #iPhone6Plus during the #bendgate situation, although the interaction could have been interpreted as a false association between the two brands. It worked out for KitKat, but that is risky behavior that opens the door for legal recourse.

So how do we navigate the muddy waters of legal vs. illegal in social marketing?

1. Have an open conversation about strategy. It is important that a brand’s entire marketing team, including agency partners, understand the brand’s comfort levels for engaging with other brands and celebrities. And when possible, those teams should outline a “right-time” strategy for real-time engagements around trending topics that add value for brand followers.

2. Involve legal. Whether it is the brand’s legal team or the agency’s, a legal professional should review questionable posts.

3. Play it safe. In most cases, participating in an already noisy online conversation is not worth the risk. If you really want to engage, consider using general terms like “the awards show.”

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