The rapid spread of internet technology and the business opportunities that have popped up around it means that laws are running to keep up with the times and new situations. In cases where social media and business meet, a few things are becoming clear: the law will recognize (certain) tweets and posts as promotion and advertising.
Earlier this month, New York pharmacy chain Duane Reade found itself in one such situation when it tweeted a picture of actress Katherine Heigl carrying Duane Reade shopping bags with commentary saying that she enjoyed shopping at “#NYC’s favorite drugstore” and tagged both Heigl and itself. Heigl and her reps contacted the chain asking it to take down the post. After several refusals to do so, Duane Reade found itself in a $6 million dollar lawsuit.
Perhaps that sounds crazy – unless you know a little about copyright law and its role in the digital age.
Social Media Marketing: Think Before You Tweet
Social media has a way of making things spread like wildfire; a post could potentially be spread to thousands in a short period of time – whether you’re an individual posting from your bedroom, a small or local business, or a large corporation – because of how social media instantly links to a specific person, place, or thing through tagging.
While all should consider the content they post, businesses have extra reason to be careful. In the wake of the Katherine Heigl-Duane Reade Twitter incident, Adweek interviewed some experts about where Duane Reade went wrong and advice for brands when it comes to social media strategies.
- Ask permission. Getting written permission from the copyright holder and person in the picture are obvious safeguards. Even though sharing is easy and possible on social media sites, a business should look at all its social media actions through the lens of traditional advertising and promotional gain. Otherwise, a person has the right to seek damages.
- Retweet without commentary. Simply sharing information from the original source can help protect brands under the First Amendment. However, the situation changes quickly if that information appears as though it’s being used in a promotional way or as an endorsement, as Duane Reade did.
- Consider your words carefully, and be honest. Once again, avoid commentary that sounds like an endorsement when sharing a photo you don’t own, and be transparent about the original source and situation – meaning, be clear that your company wasn’t involved in setting anything up, etc. As advised in the Adweek article, a cautious but better approach would be to express surprise and delight at seeing a celebrity with something from your brand as opposed to writing a message that sounds promotional.
- Take down any post if asked. Heigl’s first move wasn’t a lawsuit seeking damages. If Duane Reade had acquiesced, this social media discussion wouldn’t be happening. Well, maybe it would be (look up the Samsung/Ortiz/Obama selfie that wasn’t so innocent that blurred the lines between spontaneous and set-up).
It’s important to be savvy and smart in the digital age. The game may appear easy to play and every things fair game in social media. However, there are definitely fine lines dividing engagement, marketing, and promotion and advertising especially when it comes to using celebrities’ likenesses. Of course, don’t let this deter your brand from reaching out to customers in a fun, engaging way. Just keep these social media marketing tips in mind.