How far should a company go to protect its brand? What aspects of the private, off-duty time of its employees can a corporation control in order to guard itself against those who would attempt exploit its trademark and sabotage its image? According to Jennifer Van Grove of Mashable (08/04/2009), the sports world seems to be on the front lines of brand protection from attacks via social media. Earlier this month, ESPN told its employees and players they are not allowed to post to Twitter about any topic other than ESPN when referring to sports. The fallout of the pronouncement came to a noisy, tense resolution after ESPN found it necessary to take to the Twitter boards to defend itself. In response to Van Grove’s article, ESPN announced on Twitter it had revamped its original regulations regarding employees’ use of Twitter and other social media. ESPN went on to explain its reasons for the latter declaration by asserting the company was engaging in brand protection. Other sports entities such as the Southeastern Conference and the National Football League have taken similar measures to protect their brands and trademarks, as well as the broadcasting rights of the television stations that transmit their sporting events. The SEC banned ticket-holders from using social media applications to post public updates of sporting events from within the event itself. Catalyzed by loud grumbling from fans, the SEC has come to a decision to permit brief updates via such social media applications as Facebook and Twitter. Live video will not be permitted.
ESPN is showing considerable foresight in recognizing future threats to its brand and image from technological advancements. The company knows it is only a matter of time before the rules are more obviously justified. While the current regulations primarily involve the posting of sports-related media on employees’ websites or social pages, it is clear ESPN is also concerned with the off-time behavior of its employees and players, enough to feel it necessary to warn them the big eye was watching.
As our world gets smaller and more virtual, it is going to be that much more difficult for people to hide their personal delectations. People also have to consider while they may not be aware they are being filmed or photographed, such media could eventually end up on the web. While ESPN may not necessarily be asking its employees and contractors to try to control what others say about the company, they are adamant as to the culpability of employees’ and players in regard to their own pages and posts. Popular consent gives companies every right to expect proper deportment from their employees, both in and out of the office. Most companies today have new employees sign contracts that protect the company in any number of ways from public embarrassment, corporate sabotage and brand infringement.
Trina L. Grant is a social media blogger and Twitter addict. For more samples of her writing, you can check out her blog, Destination Freelance. For more on social media and Twitter, go to her website.
Image courtesy sxc/CraigPJ