Should trademark symbols be used in social media posts?

Online marketing efforts have brands—ideally—in high-profile situations. Does that mean your product line or company name warrants a special symbol every time?

In this age of social media marketing, what’s in a name?

A client of our public relations agency recently asked our opinion on whether the company should use a small trademark (™) or registered trademark (®) notation following the use of its corporate name online. From Twitter to Facebook posts, should trademark symbols be used in marketing communications on social media?

Working at a social-media-focused agency that specializes in brand marketing, we’ve often considered how to employ trademarks and brand names online.

There are legal reasons why you might want to use trademark symbols in social media posts. For insight, I consulted with my former colleague, Kristine Dorrain, who is an adjunct instructor at William Mitchell College of Law and serves as legal counsel for the National Arbitration Forum domain name dispute resolution program. Dorrain advised that including trademark symbols on Facebook and other social media channels can “discourage others from adopting your trademark.”

If you haven’t yet registered your trademark or are trying to build your brand, the use of trademark symbols in social media might be a good idea for you “to erect that obvious picket fence by using ™ around what [companies] want as their trademarks,” Dorrain said. “Use of the trademark symbol signifies that the mark, though unregistered, is considered by you to be your trademark.”

Intellectual property lawyer Craig Albert, in an interview for an Inc. article on how to protect your trademark from infringement, counsels that you should use trademark symbols “wherever you have a big display.”

“The basic idea is that someone should see it if they’re reading an ad or a body of copy for your business. It’s to alert the public to what is your registered mark,” he said. “The big guys tend to use the little R logo about 50 percent of the time they display their registered mark.”

From Xerox and Google to Starbucks and Johnson & Johnson’s Band-Aid, we looked at the strategies of branding giants.

A quick scan (pun intended) of the Xerox Facebook and Twitter pages shows no trademark symbols in corporate posts.

Google, which happens to be on its latest brand-saving crusade against use of its name as a verb (“brand verbification” as some call it), is not using trademark symbols after its name in tweets, Facebook posts, or blog posts.

Starbucks does not use trademark symbols on Facebook and Twitter.

The social media strategists for the Facebook page of Johnson & Johnson brand Band-Aid do use the registered symbol in posts. Similar to Google, the Band-Aid brand may be preventing itself from “genericide.”

Still, Albert confirmed, “you don’t need to include that little TM or R every single time you mention your company’s name.” He points to the Starbucks website, where the coffee company chooses to display the trademark symbol next to its corporate mermaid logo and a registered symbol next to its VIA® instant coffee brand. Still, Starbucks does not use the symbols in social media posts.

From a marketing standpoint, Twin Cities communication guru Arik Hanson weighs in:

“I haven’t seen too many brands that use trademark symbols after product names in every instance on social channels. … If your team’s attorneys insist on that approach, I’d do what any good PR counselor would do: I’d sit down and negotiate. Maybe there would be wiggle room around using the trademark somewhere in the bio or company description in the social media profile—and not on every tweet or post.”

Given the informal, conversations-based nature of social media channels, it’s no surprise that some brands do not include trademark symbols.

“Google has the luxury of only using the ® (for Registered Trademark) when it wants to, because everyone knows Google is someone else’s trademark,” Dorrain said.

However, smaller or startup companies should consider closely the use of trademark symbols on social media and, of course, when in doubt, be sure to consult an attorney specializing in intellectual property or trademark law for a final legal opinion.

We believe it’s ultimately up to your organization to consider the use of trademark symbols in your social media posts. For your company, find a solution that works for you, and then be consistent in your use of trademarks online and in social media posts.

What’s your opinion? Are trademarks in social media posts absolutely necessary, totally unneeded, or somewhere in between?

Christina Milanowski is social media director and account supervisor at Minneapolis-based Maccabee, a strategic public relations and online marketing agency. She is a regular contributor to the MaccaPR blog.

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