Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Trademarked professional networking sites could help with "reputation defense" problem on the Web


Cameron Johnson ‘s book (previous post), in discussing the negligence of many companies in securing domain names and trademarks quickly, and in presenting the idea that “you are your own brand,” motivates perhaps some partial solution to the “reputation defense” problem with social networking sites as they affect the workplace.

As I’ve noted on a few blogs, employers can reasonably be concerned that clients or stakeholders could be alarmed about material that could be found about their associates or contractors on the web, specifically on social networking sites. In some cases, they may want to have their associates’ “online presence” professionally managed. Companies like Ziggs are appearing to maintain “professional profiles” online.

It would seem to make sense to set up “professional social networking sites” by career field with domain names and, particularly, registered trademarks that communicate the nature of the field. Only professional information would belong on the site. Clients would be shown the information on these profiles, which would be augmented resumes. On the other hand, in many cases associates would be able to have personal profiles or blogs that they “own” personally on conventional social networking sites, with the idea that they would keep the material from the two worlds “separate.”

It could be useful to develop a new TLD suffix for professional networking sites, to further strengthen their "branding" and make it clear to clients what they are to be used for. As an alternative, always use .biz rather than .com for them. Or perhaps use .pro for this purpose. (Wikipedia reference).

The branding of the “professional profiles” social networking site would help anchor the sense of professionalism in the minds of clients, because the concept of “brand” (as expressed in trademark law) is intended to do just that: recall to mind a level of service and professionalism to the mind of the client.

There is no reason why existing social networking companies like Myspace and Facebook should not develop and own these, but they should be separately named as domains and have separately registered trademarks.

Cameron, in his book, however, emphasized that an individual becomes his own “brand.” That sounds like the more general concept of “reputation.” Nevertheless, I would hope that in some cases trademarked professional social networking sites would allow individuals to have more than one life credibly on the web. This would not work well, in many cases, for people whose job it is to make decisions about others or to speak publicly for a company, for a group of clients, for a political candidate, for an adversarial interest.

Sometimes trademark law can be your friend. Sometimes!

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