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If your company is on Facebook, and has a loyal following, it's quite possible that there are fan sites or Facebook fan pages on social media. According to Facebook's rules, fan sites are permitted so long as the brand's copyright is not infringed, doesn't "mislead others into thinking it is an official Page," and doesn't "speak in the voice of" the brand.
A Tale of Two Brands
In 2008, Coca-Cola learned that two of its fans created a Facebook fan page and had millions of "likes." Seeing this as an opportunity, Coke hired the two, giving them resources to build the page, and making their fan page the official fan page, reports Bloomberg.
Now, Ferrari finds itself in a similar situation -- except rather than hiring the fans, they are steeped in litigation. Six years ago, Sammy Wasem started a Ferrari fan page when he was 15, and it quickly became popular. In 2009, the company sent a letter to Wasem that stated, "unfortunately legal issues force us in taking over the formal administration of the fan page," reports Bloomberg.
Before signing a contract and sorting out financial terms, Sammy and his father began working for Ferrari until four years later, they lost their Facebook page administration rights. Now, Wasem and his father are suing Ferrari in Switzerland for copyright infringement, and seeking 10 million Swiss francs in compensation.
Brand Fan Sites on Social Media
Coca-Cola and Ferrari illustrate two very different ways of handling almost identical situations. While Coke decided to go with the flow, Ferrari took a more adversarial role. With the potential for backlash on social media, that approach is probably not the best bet.
Here are some things to consider when dealing with brand fan sites on social media.
1. Are you monitoring fan sites?
First, things first, is anyone at the company monitoring fan sites? The marketing department is probably already aware of existing fan sites, but if not, then you should advise them to be on the lookout for unofficial fan pages.
2. Can you leverage fan sites?
If they do exist, first confirm that they are not violating Facebook's page rules. If they are not, and the fan page has a number of page likes that would be hard to ignore, work with the marketing department to see if there is a way work with the fans to leverage their fan page so that it works with, not against, your company's existing marketing efforts.
3. Can you handle conflict quietly?
If you see the potential for legal disputes, try to handle them as quietly as possible. You already know the fan is social media savvy, so any "cease and desist" type letters you send will most likely end up on social media as well. Try to avoid a negative backlash for your company, while still protecting the brand.
It's a difficult balance to walk, but Coke and Ferrari give us two good examples of how to deal with this situation -- only one path presents a win-win situation. Which will your company choose?