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Brandware Public Relations | Atlanta | New York | Los Angeles

The Wild West of Word-of-Mouth Marketing

One of the biggest “hmm” moments came at the very end of last week’s Word of Mouth Marketing Conference, when many of the marketers and agency types had already shuttled to the airport.

The conference had excellent insights on what’s working from leading brands like Nestle, 3M, Zappos, Verizon, Intel and dozens of others. There was also no shortage of content about hot topics like ethics and disclosure, community building and management, creating effective Facebook ads and social business frameworks. But here’s what blew me away: a legal panel of three attorneys who specialize in keeping their respective employers from stepping on all manners of social land mines (did you know the National Labor Relations Board ruled CostCo’s employee social media policy unlawful?) pointed out that nowhere in Twitter’s terms of service does it actually allow a marketer to retweet an individual’s Tweet mentioning the brand. Never mind that it’s done every day by content aggregators as well as the brands’ own social media managers. I wonder who’ll become the poster child for a lawsuit?

Legal issues surrounding our favorite platforms and practices are all around – each of the presenting attorneys agreed that Pinterest is the most dangerous of the platforms for potential litigation.  Copyright infringement concerns aren’t just something to worry about when pinning. According to one of the presenters, Cool Hunter lost 788,000 fans and 5 years worth of content when Facebook received complaints that copyrighted photos were featured on the company’s page. B’bye , Cool Hunter.

I’m not here to cast doom and gloom on social marketing (which is essentially how most everyone defines word-of-mouth marketing ). To the contrary, while it’s still the Wild West when it comes to regulation, brand marketers are pressing full speed ahead. And why not – at present there are around 400 social networks with over a 1 million participants. Who in their right mind would choose to steer clear of opportunities reaching these engaged influencers and advocates?

My next blog will take a deeper dive into what some of the more interesting opportunities are, from a business bottom line perspective. In the meantime, here are two warnings from the legal minds who are guarding the interests of big global brands: 1) Regulators are watching and taking action. 2) Platforms are watching and taking action.  Before you deploy a rogue social media campaign, better make sure you fully understand the existing rules.

Photo courtesy of plantec1

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