The team is joined by Guest Kats Rosie Burbidge, Stephen Jones, Mathilde Pavis, and Eibhlin Vardy, and by InternKats Verónica Rodríguez Arguijo, Hayleigh Bosher, Tian Lu and Cecilia Sbrolli.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

INTA Brand Authenticity Conference (Report 4): Brands, social media and CSR

Packing a punch - leveraging social media to
communicate CSR and generate brand value
With the final report from last week's INTA Brand Authenticity Conference, Alex Woolgar (A&O) reports on final session on a brand's use of social media to communicate their social responsibility initiatives.  Over to Alex: 
"The final session of the conference dealt with the use of social media to communicate on CSR issues. Claus Eckhartt of Bardehle Pagenberg moderated a panel of Adam Garfunkel of Junxion and Michelle Mancino Marsh of Arent Fox
Adam traced the development of brand CSR communications from companies merely saying "trust us", through consumers beginning to ask companies to "tell me" and "show me" their values, and finally to "involve me". In Adam's view, the three key tenets of social media communications in a CSR context are (i) transparency; (ii) communicating innovation; and (iii) creating a sense of community. Adam gave several positive and negative examples of corporate social media engagement. Perhaps most instructive was BP's experience following the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. Twitter users began posting sarcastic tweets using the hashtag #bpcares, and a parody account (@bpglobalpr) was set up. From a legal perspective BP should have been able to have the account suspended (because the account name and bio do not make clear that it is a parody and therefore the account does not comply with Twitter policy). However, to do this presumably would have generated even more negative publicity. From McLibel to the estate of Elvis Presley's recent spat with Brewdog over "Elvis Juice", there are many examples of how heavy-handed application of legal rights can be counter-productive. Adam suggested that perhaps contrary to the first instincts of IP lawyers, brand owners should not seek to control every aspect of their social media output in minute detail, both because of the risk this will backfire, and also because this will reduce the benefits of social media engagement. Adam argued it is good for brands to have a broader community of users independently tweeting positive things about the brand, and flexibility and a sense of humour from employees representing the brand on social media will make a brand appear more engaged, authentic and attractive.

Michelle gave an overview of some legal considerations for brands using social media. "Green" claims or logos must be carefully vetted to avoid misleading consumers and/or "greenwashing". In the US, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) keeps an eye on communications and claims on social media (and may impose penalties for misleading claims), as do lawyers for (potential) claimants. Linked to this is the importance of ensuring integrity of manufacturing processes and supply chain - Michelle used the example of Nordstrom and JC Penney receiving a $1.3 million FTC fine for erroneously claiming that certain garments were 100% bamboo, when in fact they were 70% rayon. In general, therefore, transparency is best. There are limits to this, however: it is never advisable to disclose details of a proprietary product or process which may later form the basis of a patent application; and brand owners should be cautious about how they communicate seemingly positive developments which may also have hidden drawbacks (e.g. have price cuts been made possible by treating suppliers or employees poorly? If so it is ill-advised to trumpet the positive without addressing the underlying problem). There are therefore benefits to having a social media engagement protocol but, in light of Adam's earlier comments, perhaps this should be as light-touch as possible.

In summary, this guest Kat found the conference to be fascinating and thought-provoking conference. Although there was perhaps some initial scepticism regarding the relative lack of "hard" law, by the end there was general agreement that the bringing together of diverse expertise in the area of brand authenticity was valuable to all. This is an area of great challenge and opportunity for brand owners, and it will require energy and initiative from many disciplines (including lawyers!) to find ways of aligning brands and consumers in pursuit of social and environmental good, as well as the financial bottom line."

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