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David and Goliath meets Social Media

Here’s an interesting David and Goliath story about the power of social media to transcend the rule of law. It’s also a cautionary tale for any business or organization about the power of social media.

The “Goliath” in this story is Lassonde Industries Inc. of Quebce that sells a line of fruit juices under the name Oasis. Lassonde is a major corporate concern reporting about $750 million in sales on its website. Our “David” is a small local producer of soap products that had the misfortune of choosing the name Olivia’s Oasis.

So, in 1995 the battle begins when Lassonde sues the smaller Oasis for trademark infringement – presumably because they are worried that consumers might somehow confuse the locally available soap products with their national brand of juice products. In 2010, a Quebec court rules that Lassonde’s trademark claim is without grounds and orders Lassonde to pay the little Oasis $100,000 in costs and $25,000 in damages. But Lassonde can’t live with that. They appeal and low and behold the Quebec Court of Appeal rules in their favour, reversing the previous decision. Battle done. Winner declared, right?

Wrong. Within hours of the decision being made public, a popular Quebec TV host tweets his 100,000 followers and I bet you can almost guess what happens next. Yup, the (Goliath) Oasis page is besieged with thousands of negative comments including calls for a boycott.

To give the company a little credit, they react quickly and dispatch a senior executive to meet with the owner of the little Oasis and offer to pay all her costs. You can get the full details from the story in the National Post.

So here’s what I take from this tale of biblical proportions:

1. The rules have changed. In effect, social media rendered the decision of the court meaningless. It means that in the future, companies making similar decisions will have to consider not only issues of law but also how those issues will play out in the online world.

2. Organizations have to get smarter about the power of social media. Amazingly, Lassonde’s COO was shocked by the social media onslaught Lassonde but I’ll be that most people reading this could have predicted the outcome. This has cost Lassonde far more than what they will pay to the “David” Oasis and their own legal costs. Even after their attempt to make things right the comments today on the company’s Facebook page are overwhelmingly negative.

3. You can’t hide under the radar. Businesses or organizations have to assume that every decision will be subject to the scrutiny of social media and they have to be prepared to be judged in that court. That may mean taking a different course of action or proactively deciding how the story will be told. Recent controversy at World Vision and the Komen Foundation prove that even nonprofits are not exempt.

4. Social media will always side with the underdog. If you’re considering how a story will play out, you have to take that reality into consideration.

Social media is causing a major shift in the modern day battlefield between David and Goliath and smart companies are studying the revised biblical tale.

What’s your take? What are the implications of this story? What are you doing about your social media strategy? Any David and Goliath stories to share?

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