“Any CEO who is sceptical at all: you have to be totally connected with everyone who touches your brand. You have to. You have to create a social enterprise today. If you don’t do that, I don’t know what your business model is in five years”. That is the message from Angela Ahrendts, former CEO of Burberry and perfectly describes the attitude that luxury brands should have towards social media.

But when building a social media presence, luxury brands must understand the need to protect the brand online and the importance of social media policies.

Failing to know who is in charge and who has access is critical to ensure the brand is protected online. Be sure to know which departments have access, for example does the CEO have access?

A recent example of where brands have been damaged includes HMV, where workers briefly took over the company’s Twitter account to vent their anger over mass sackings when the company went into administration.

Michael O’Leary, the CEO of Ryanair, also got into hot water when his first venture into live Twitter Q&As became a PR disaster from the start when he made an inappropriate response to one of the first questioners – a woman – seemingly unaware that his Tweet would be seen by everyone.

His comment (“Nice pic. Phwoaaarr! MOL”) was rapidly re-tweeted, causing major embarrassment to the business, and potentially damaging the brand.

Employers must ensure that those employees who are permitted to post/blog/tweet on behalf of their employer know what they are allowed to say.

Be clear that employees should:

  • Speak knowledgeably
  • Be engaging and interactive
  • Add value
  • Respond to your mistakes quickly
  • Not be argumentative
  • Protect customers and confidential information

Employers should set down in writing whether employees are allowed to use social media during working hours. Whether on an ad-hoc basis, or out of office hours, it is vital that your policy specifies this exactly, as you may need to refer to it in the future.

Consider whether access should be allowed, or if there should be a blanket ban. If it is allowed are there any restraints on use? And if so, specify the restrictions. Make it clear whether employees are permitted to associate themselves with their employer on personal platforms, and if so are disclaimers required in posts? It is also useful to give advice on anything that employees are not permitted to say, and give examples for guidance.

Controlling any damage to the brand online must also be carefully considered, particularly when responding to a crisis.

A bad example includes the Tesco twitter account tweeting “It’s sleepy time, off to hit the hay” at the height of the Horse Meat Scandal.

A good example would be Paul Pester, the boss of TSB, personally apologising to customers angry at an IT glitch which left them unable to access their money.

Luxury brands need also be aware of who owns online content.

Put in simple terms, if you created the content you own it, that is assuming you haven’t assigned rights to another party, and it doesn’t infringe copyright.

However even if you own the content you’ve created, you may, by agreeing to the terms of a site, be granting that site a licence to use your posts. That is the case notably with Facebook.

Critically whatever you post online must be legally sound – ensure that you don’t break defamation laws or commit a contempt of court.

The legal definition of defamation is: “Any intentionally false communication, either written or spoken, that harms a person’s reputation; decreases the respect, regard, or confidence in which a person is held; or induces disparaging, hostile, or disagreeable opinions or feelings against a person”.

Sally Bercow recently fell foul of defamation laws and was forced to apologise to the late Lord McAlpine for her “irresponsible use of Twitter” and agreed to pay undisclosed damages to him before his untimely death.

She was ruled to have posted a tweet that was “highly defamatory”, wrongly implicating the former Conservative Party treasurer in allegations of child sex abuse.

Any company who uses social media as a platform, regardless of size, should ensure that they have a social media policy in place. The policy should detail exactly who has the authority to post, and guidelines as to what is acceptable, together with examples. Training does need to be provided to those who post on the company’s behalf and the policy should be reviewed regularly to ensure that it complies with current legislation.

Of course we should reiterate that it is not simply enough for luxury brands to have a social media policy, senior executives must ensure that it is implemented correctly in order for it to be successful.

For further information and advice on social media policies please contact Donna Martin at donna.martin@mackrell.com or Maung Aye at Maung.aye@mackrell.com, or call on 02072400521.