Defending Brand and Trademark on Facebook

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This topic contains 37 replies, has 19 voices, and was last updated by  Corey McCarren 8 years ago.

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  • #161959

    Thomas A Brazelton
    Participant

    Greetings!

    My name is Tom Brazelton and I am the Web Communications Specialist with the City of Ankeny in Iowa. I work for the City’s Public Relations Department. This is my first post on GovLoop.

    We are currently having some trouble with Facebook that I thought might be relevant to other GovLoop readers. I was also hoping that this discussion might generate a few ideas for us.

    Recently, Facebook stripped our administrator rights from the City of Ankeny’s Facebook page. With it, our custom URL was also removed. We can no longer access our Insight’s page and we cannot post as the City of Ankeny on other Facebook pages. Disassociation from our custom URL has effectively broken all of our links coming from our press releases and other links on our web site.

    Facebook says that we cannot identify ourselves as the City of Ankeny because it is their policy that users may not manage pages about towns, cities or states. Use of “City of” in our name is too generic.

    I pointed out to them that “City of Ankeny” is our trademarked name and cited over a dozen other local governments that also use “CityOf” in their custom URL.

    Facebook has not been swayed. They said that the other pages I linked to are also not permitted administrative privledges and they are actively trying to enforce this policy.

    Has anyone else run into this problem with Facebook? It seems like a very odd policy to me. Anyone who is a member of our community should know the difference between the governing body that provides services and support to residents as opposed to Facebook’s aggregate community check-in page. But Facebook does not agree.

    We feel our next step may be to involve our lawyer in an effort to protect our brand and trademark. I was hoping the GovLoop community might have insights or strategies pertaining to this matter.

    With thanks,

    Tom Brazelton
    Web Communications Specialist
    City of Ankeny

  • #162033

    Corey McCarren
    Participant

    Welcome to GovLoop, Tom. Interesting dilemma, hope it all gets sorted out quickly and easily.

  • #162031

    Just posted in a couple groups to get you some help, Tom.

    (P.S. I grew up in Colo, IA, just a few miles north of Ankeny…and went to ISU 🙂

  • #162029

    Brian Dowling
    Participant

    Doubt that getting lawyers involved is going to help anything. Seems that you already have established a good brand and that it is simply coming up with a name that is short, concise and sweet to communicate that brand, preferably something that links easily in the mind to what you had before. Two possibilities come to mind, ‘Ankeny City Hall’ and if that has overtones of bureaucracy then ‘Ankeny City Square’. Once you do decide on something, a campaign promoting the change will I suspect quickly spread through your market based on what you have done before.

  • #162027

    Lizz Gunnufsen
    Participant

    Thanks for posting. This would affect Chesapeake, too. Please keep us updated on your progress, and good luck!

  • #162025

    Thomas A Brazelton
    Participant

    My director and I spent a little time discussing this with the City’s Attorney yesterday and she brought up a good point. Where I an my director viewed it as a trademark issue, Facebook has no responsibility to promote that trademark. Our trademark only exists to protect us from copycats. So it was kind of a moot point.

    I think we’re coming around to the idea that fighting Facebook on this issue is an insurmountable climb. So – as you said – it’s become a matter of coming up with a name that is concise and communicates the brand memorably.

    To prepare our followers for the inevitable transition, we’ve decided to loop them into the process and asking for their suggestions. Even if they don’t come up with something we can use, it at least raises awareness that a change is coming.

    We tried looking at larger cities to see how they’re approaching the problem. We looked up the City of New York City on Facebook and their custom URL is “nygov” – very short and to the point. In fact, they use it across all of their social media channels – Twitter, Foursquare, YouTube… you name it.

    I don’t think we want to go through a complete rebranding of our digital channels, but something like “ankenygov” might be enough to get Facebook back on our side again.

  • #162023

    Corey McCarren
    Participant

    I would imagine that a problem would be that Facebook owns Facebook, so if they have don’t want to use a certain url or whatnot it’s up to their discretion to disallow it. I suppose if they allowed a location app or something to use the “city of Ankeny” while you have it trademarked, then you could have a valid case.

  • #162021

    Thomas A Brazelton
    Participant

    Exactly. Our only recourse, really, would be to remove our page from Facebook.

    But that would be like cutting off both your arms out of spite!

  • #162019

    Kristy Dalton
    Participant

    Hi, Tom. Thanks for your post – this is the first I’ve heard of Facebook doing this. It could potentially affect many local governments. I posted on the http://www.facebook.com/government page for clarification, but they likely don’t monitor it. I’ll try a FB contact.

    The fact that you were blocked from administrator rights is most concerning to me. Can you please describe more about how this happened and how Facebook has been communicating with you about it? Did the messages display on screen, or are you in contact with a representative via email? Perhaps being blocked from admin access for an unrelated reason triggered FB to strip the custom URL, causing the old one to display as already taken?

    I can’t find any language in FB’s terms, pages policy and amended terms for state and local government that supports their actions on this. It appears that Ankeny is appropriately categorized as a Government Agency, and not a Place. I will definitely be following this conversation.

    p.s. Is Jay still at Ankeny?

  • #162017

    Thomas A Brazelton
    Participant

    We are currently in communication with a Facebook representative. Her name is “Nancy” from Page Operations. We don’t know her last name. We have no contact information for her other than the e-mail thread that she established. We’ve asked repeatedly for a phone number that we can call to speak with a customer service representative over the phone and they’ve refused – citing that they do not have any phone support.

    Basically, Facebook came out of blue a few weeks ago (e-mailing me at my personal e-mail account) saying that they do not allow users to admin a page that represents a generic location or entity. For example, beer, pizza, San Francisco or New York State. They gave me the link to their page guidelines for reference.

    At that point, the City’s custom URL identifier was removed, we lost access to insights and could not post as the City of Ankeny on other Facebook pages. That said, we still retain the ability to post status updates and create events with them showing up with the City’s avatar in use.

    We’ve questions whether “Nancy” understands that I am – in fact – a representative of the City and not just some guy trying to claim it. We think they’re being somewhat obtuse about it, considering that the City of Ankeny is a federally registered trademark and our page is listed as a government agency. We don’t understand why they presume there would be confusion between the “City of Ankeny” – the government entity and “Ankeny, Iowa” in the aggregate.

    As they have made clear that they intend to enforce their policy among other municipal government pages, they don’t seem to feel the need to clarify.

    As for Jay? Yeah, he’s still here! 🙂

  • #162015

    Peter Sperry
    Participant

    Given the articles I’ve been reading comparing Facebook to AOL, this may not be a problem you’ll need to worry about for too much longer.

  • #162013

    Luke Stowe
    Participant

    I just emailed Katie Harbath, Manager of Public Policy, at Facebook. I’ve asked her to weigh in on this discussion. She recently assisted me on this very issue with one of our local municipalities.

    Luke Stowe

    Lake County, IL Government

  • #162011

    Thomas A Brazelton
    Participant

    Luke, that is excellent news. I am very interested on getting more details from Facebook regarding their policy.

  • #162009

    Luke Stowe
    Participant

    Hey Tom, I’m emailing you with some additional info.

  • #162007

    Kristy Dalton
    Participant

    Hey, Tom – please shoot me your email address. I’m at [email protected].

    Everyone else, please keep me in the loop if you hear of this happening to other government agencies, both local and state!

  • #162005

    Amanda Leisinger
    Participant

    Tom – I work for the City of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and we are currently working on developing our Facebook page and are having difficulty contacting anyone at Facebook. Could you send me your email address to correspond instead of through Govloop? Mine is [email protected].

    Thanks

  • #162003

    Luke Stowe
    Participant

    Hey Amanda,

    Just sent you an email which should help.

    Luke

  • #162001

    Thomas A Brazelton
    Participant

    For those of you looking for an update on this story, I received confirmation from Katie Harbath – the Facebook representative that Luke Stowe put me in contact with – that Facebook will not be budging on this issue.

    Katie originally explained that enforcement around Facebook’s policy was decided upon after larger cities like New York and Chicago could not agree as to who would own a Facebook page titled “City of New York” or “City of Chicago.” Katie claimed that everyone from the Mayor’s Office to the City Council and Tourism Board would try to lay claim to it. Their new policy exists so that – in essence – no one can lay claim to it.

    I explained to Katie that Ankeny (a community of roughly 50,000) would have no such disputes, that “City of Ankeny” is our legal trademarked name and that our local government has a “one voice” communication policy that filters all communication through a single access point to prevent these kind of conflicts.

    Making exceptions, Katie explained, would put Facebook down “a slippery slope.” Now we are in the position of attempting to rebrand ourselves with a name that meets both our needs and Facebook’s policy.

    I wanted to give people a head’s up because it sounds like this is something Facebook is going full steam ahead with. Keep in mind how you might have to adapt your identifier when the policy reaches you and your pages!

  • #161999

    Lizz Gunnufsen
    Participant

    Does anyone know if there are other city names Facebook isn’t allowing? Someone here suggested CityNameStateAbreviation, as in ChesapeakeVA. It’s taken but the page isn’t active.

  • #161997

    Deborah Johnson
    Participant

    I just saw your post after several days off. Completely mystifying! I am one of several staff who have admin. rights to City of Lakewood’s (Wash.) FB page. We certainly haven’t encountered that issue; plus, our parks & rec dept. & our PD have separate pages. We are classed as “government agency” within the “place” classifiers (or whatever it’s called technically).

    https://www.facebook.com/#!/LakewoodWA

    I’m not sure what you mean by “custom URL” but our standard city URL (for website/e-mail purposes) is <cityoflakewood.us> & again, we haven’t experienced any issues related to using it on FB – or maybe they just haven’t gotten to us yet! I’m going to forward your post to our IS folks just in case.

    I am aware that, as of the time we started up our FB page, an individual was using our logo & representing his page as City of Lakewood. There was some communication back & forth about this, & it was to have stopped; but the last time I looked that FB profile was still active. Maybe this is the type of use they’re concerned about – ??

  • #161995

    Thomas A Brazelton
    Participant

    By “custom URL,” I meant the vanity URL.

    I think when you get over 30 likes on your page, Facebook gives you vanity URL permissions to more effectively brand and market your page.

    For example, our page used to be facebook.com/AnkenyIA.

    Now it is https://www.facebook.com/pages/City-of-Ankeny/102436154792

    As it was explained to me, Facebook wants to prevent multiple entities within communities from establishing “City of” representation. So, whereas it sounds like yours was a case of trademark infringement (using your logo, misrepresenting your brand), what Facebook seeks to avoid is the Mayor’s office, the City Council, the tourism board, the police department, etc ALL trying to claim “City of X.”

  • #161993

    Thomas A Brazelton
    Participant

    I don’t think Facebook will let you get away with that.

    As it’s been explained to us, they want to avoid giving admin privileges to pages about specific locations. So city name and state abbreviation won’t work.

    Our vanity URL used to be facebook.com/AnkenyIA, which is maybe what put us on their radar to begin with?

    They want names to include more specifics. So, since our page represents the municipal government, they want us to use something like “City of Ankeny Government” or “Ankeny City Government.”

    We’ll likely go with the former.

  • #161991

    Lizz Gunnufsen
    Participant

    I suspected as much. Thanks for helping all of us out. I really appreciate finding out about this here rather than from Facebook.

  • #161989

    Barbara A DeLauter
    Participant

    Would it be reasonable to use Facebooks mission statement to remind them that they no longer in alignment with their mission statement? Facebooks states that the want to “…give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected”.

    Mission

    Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.
    Company Overview
    Millions of people use Facebook everyday to keep up with friends, upload an unlimited number of photos, share links and videos, and learn more about the people they meet.

  • #161987

    Bob MacKie
    Participant

    My insight is that sometimes you can not anticipate how policies will be interpreted by the employees of large organizations. Facebook has 3500 employees; which seems like a lot until you work out that is one employee per over 250,000 members. (And we should probably leave out Mark Z and a few others at the top who likely do not answer member mail.)

    Seriously, I hope you get some attention on this. Maybe a lawyer’s letter would help. I often recommend to associations that we deal with to have both a public presence on FaceBook as well as a private community. I do not see how you could have anticipated this problem and I am not sure what you can do about it. I have put this post up on our public community site here. It is available for public comment so perhaps someone else will post an idea for a solution there.

  • #161985

    David M. Frost
    Participant

    You might look into the Facebook agreement on apps.gov run by GSA. Maybe that will work out better since the terms are favorable to government entities. Good luck.

    https://www.apps.gov/cloud/cloud/sa_details.do?&clid=5&catId=60

  • #161983

    Thomas A Brazelton
    Participant

    Greetings everyone. It’s been a little while since I’ve posted on this topic and I felt like I owed everyone a follow-up to let you know how things turned out.

    After being put in touch with a representative from Facebook who was a little more prompt returning messages than who I was originally dealing with, we were placed in something of a holding pattern as Facebook policy makers reviewed their positions regarding local governments claiming city names for their Facebook pages.

    A few weeks would go by and I’d ask for an update. A decision hadn’t been made. This back and forth went on for a few weeks.

    Long story short, they upheld their original policy decision and we were forced to change our name.

    We ended up changing our page name from “City of Ankeny” to “City of Ankeny Government” – which we feel is redundant, but at least keeps our branding up front.

    Interestingly enough, they let us change our custom URL from “facebook.com/AnkenyIA” to “facebook.com/CityOfAnkeny” – which was odd because when we established the page back in 2009, they wouldn’t let us have “CityOfAnkeny” citing that private entities couldn’t claim specific locations. Fast forward to 2012 and the Facebook representative I spoke with said that basically Facebook wasn’t concerned with vanity URLs as much as they were page names.

    Although we were a little annoyed that it took so long for Facebook to reach their conclusion, we appreciated that they at least examined their policy a little. Things didn’t work out in our favor, but the transition to our new page name has been seamless. We posted a message notifying our followers of the change and to update their bookmarks and traffic has remained steady.

    I can’t predict if or when Facebook will start implementing their policy against other government web pages. For now, I would probably advise not making any changes on your end until they come calling. Just know they won’t be very flexible about it when they do.

    Thanks to everyone who contributed their advise and helped us make connections inside Facebook in regards to this issue. It’s been a very enlightening experience!

  • #161981

    Lizz Gunnufsen
    Participant

    Thanks so much for the update. Very helpful!

  • #161979

    Vanessa Vogel
    Participant

    Very interesting how they are more concerned with the page names and not the URLs. I would’ve guessed just the opposite.

  • #161977

    Brett White
    Participant

    Thanks for posting this information. Our main FB page is the “City of West Hollywood” so I imagine they will eventually come around to us as well. We use “WehoCity” as our moniker on other platforms so I’m wondering if I should just go ahead and request a name change (which is an option under Basic Information) to avoid any disruption. I’ll have to think about that one.

    Thomas, I also wanted to ask…when they initially cut your admin access, were you given the opportunity then and there to change the name and continue on seamlessly?

  • #161975

    David Dejewski
    Participant

    May I simply point out here that this string is an excellent example of social media helping to bring people together and solve a problem. It is fun to watch. A curious problem, but an awesome thing to see the cooperation in solving it!

    It’s ironic that the government seems to be in the position of trying to navigate a large bureauocray that won’t answer the phone or provide clarified policy on an issue that so clearly affects people.

  • #161973

    David Dejewski
    Participant

    The irony here is palpable, is it not? Isn’t this ratio of employees to citizens the same scenario people usually bring up about the government? It doesn’t feel good to be on this side of the fence, but maybe it serves as a good use case. As the ones struggling for some attention from the big, unresponsive organization, how would we like to see them engaging with us?

  • #161971

    Jina
    Participant

    Page administrators for the City of Virginia Beach got the same message from Facebook last week and we’ll be changing our name to Virginia Beach City Government tomorrow. We are posting a note later today to inform the people that have liked our page of the change so that (hopefully) it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise. What I don’t understand is this – shouldn’t the “government agency” designation clear up any confusion? Otherwise, what’s the point in having it?

  • #161969

    Robert Bacal
    Participant

    I constantly ask this question of government: Why is it essential to your mission to be on Facebook? I have yet to come across any evidence based answers that are close to satisfying. Again there are so many reasons NOT to use Facebook from a government perspective, when there are tons of alternatives, that this and other questions get to be pretty important.

  • #161967

    Thomas A Brazelton
    Participant

    For those of you still wrestling with this issue, apparently Facebook is hosting a webinar on the topic next Thursday, August 16 at 1:30 PM EST.

    3CMA posted a link just about an hour ago: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=257664821017950&id=157101001007874

    Even though the City of Ankeny has navigated through the waters on this one, I’ll be listening in to see how Facebook holds itself accountable in front of multiple government page administrators at the same time.

    It should be interesting.

  • #161965

    Jina
    Participant

    Thanks Tom! I was wondering if anyone else notified their citizens of the impending name change and the circumstances behind it. If so, what was their response?

  • #161963

    Luke Stowe
    Participant

    The good news is that Facebook is not requiring changes to the vanity URL (e.g. facebook.com/cityofevanston). They are requiring changes to the actual Page name (e.g. City of Evanston Illinois). In our case, we have requested our Page name be changed to City of Evanston Illinois Government. This should not significantly impact our Page fans.

    I am involved with the National Association of Government Webmasters (NAGW) and Katie Harbath from Facebook will be presenting a webinar for NAGW (similar to her 3CMA webinar) on Friday, August 17th at 12:00pm CST. She will also answer other questions related to best Facebook Page practices for government web and social media managers. More info at http://www.nagw.org/webinars

  • #161961

    Steve Ressler
    Keymaster

    Very cool – good to see it come to some resolution

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