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Using Social Media in Business Disputes

Book Description

Large companies frequently exploit their vastly superior legal resources and capabilities to the disadvantage of smaller competitors. The mere threat of litigation and the prospect of a prolonged lawsuit are often all that is necessary to persuade a smaller business to acquiesce to the larger competitor's legal demands. The author writes about a defensive strategy he calls "lawsourcing" that turns the tables on large companies by gathering public support, typically through social media and public relations. The idea of lawsourcing - which is a variation of what has become known as "crowdsourcing" - isn't completely new. Back in 1984, when Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc. was a six-year-old upstart in the ice cream business, Pillsbury (then the owner of the Häagen-Dazs ice cream brand) attempted to pressure some of its distributors not to handle Ben & Jerry's products. Ben & Jerry's fought back hard, with a scrappy campaign built around the slogan "What's the Doughboy Afraid Of?" Well-executed lawsourcing campaigns can deliver significant benefits to companies, including greater brand awareness and loyalty and increased sales. The author cites a number of examples, including: Hampton Creek Foods Inc., a small San Francisco-based food producer. In the fall of 2014, Unilever, owner of the Hellmann's brand of mayonnaise, filed suit against Hampton Creek for using the word "mayo" to describe its vegan mayonnaise substitute, called Just Mayo. Hampton Creek fought back by commenting about the lawsuit on Twitter and Facebook and engaging with media sympathetic to its plight. Unilever withdrew its lawsuit. Vermont artist Bo Muller-Moore, who sells T-shirts adorned with the slogan "Eat More Kale." Atlanta-based fast-food chain Chik-fil-A Inc. claimed that Muller-Moore's slogan infringed upon its federal trademark rights to the phrase "Eat Mor Chikin." After a spirited social media campaign, Muller-Moore got his own trademark. Tesla Motors Inc., which is challenging state franchise regulations that restrict Tesla from selling cars directly to consumers. Tesla's strategy leverages company CEO Elon Musk's strong social media presence and the company's blog to inform sympathizers about the issues and urge them to tell regulators of their opposition to regulations restricting direct sales. The author notes several common themes for effective lawsourcing campaigns, including a compelling story; strong, engaged social media campaigns; direct appeals for support; leveraging social media for mainstream media exposure; and being authentic and following one's instincts.