“Safety in Numbers: How to Fight Brand Hijacking on Twitter”

Last week a reporter asked my opinion on the state of brands on Twitter after the Exxon Twitter-jacking debacle.

“As more companies move on to Twitter, how are we to know who is real and who is a fake?” she asked.  “How can a reporter or a consumer know that this person can be a trusted source?”

With Exxon, someone named Janet had claimed to be the Exxon Mobil community manager.  Forrester Research’s Jeremiah Owyang got excited that Exxon was getting involved with Twitter–3 days later, it turned out Janet was a fake.  She hadn’t said anything negative about Exxon, and actually did a great job of addressing people’s questions…but she’d hijacked the brand.  Other big companies might not be so lucky.

Back in the old 1.0 days of the Internet, you could be pretty much anyone–a 40 year old man pretending to be a 13 year old girl–and no one would know otherwise.  In the Web 2.0 world, however, our identities are built on and confirmed by our relationships.

Using Facebook as an example, my identity is more-or-less confirmed by my friends.  Not that it can’t be forged, but by checking my profile, my friends, my work network, etc., you’d be able to make a fairly good guess as to whether I was real or not.

Nope, Twitter doesn’t confirm your identity–but you can still use the network to validate someone.  Jeremiah could have easily searched on Twellow for other Exxon employees on Twitter.  Had their been any Exxon employees (there aren’t), he would have been able to ask them about Janet.  Did they know her? Exxon is a big company, so maybe not…but I bet they have a directory in Outlook.

Companies like Dell, IBM, Sun Microsystems and Microsoft all have tons o’ employees on Twitter, making it easy to find a spokesperson. (Click links for Twellow searches).

A couple of steps any company can take to ensure their brand is protected:

  • Don’t just create a XYZCo generic Twitter account, get as many employees on Twitter as possible
  • Add any official Twitter names to the company’s main contact page
  • Encourage employees to mention company name in Twitter profile
  • Create a directory of employees in the company on Twitter and distribute internally
  • Encourage employees to add each other.  Even if they may not work together, Twitter can help strengthen the camaraderie within a company
  • Encourage employees to respond to any Tweets about the company they see — bonus if they search for the company’s name or industry keywords

There you go. Now whenever a reporter, blogger or consumer is looking for a company rep, they can find many to whom they can turn!  Oh, and it might not hurt to claim your company’s name–if it isn’t already taken!

What systems does your company have in place to validate Twitter screen names?  Do you have just a generic name? Do you let employees actively Tweet?

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[The above photo, "Kids at zebra crossing" by fiskfisk on Flickr, used under Creative Commons]

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3 Comments

Filed under Community Relations, Marketing, New Media, Public Relations 2.0, Social Media, Social Networking

3 responses to ““Safety in Numbers: How to Fight Brand Hijacking on Twitter”

  1. That is an interesting perspective on combating Brandjacking. Last week, I wrote about a different approach, only allowing company brand accounts to be registered to someone with that company’s corporate email account. http://twittermaven.blogspot.com/2008/09/brandjacking.html

    What do you think?

  2. Hi Warren:

    Thanks for your comment. I think it’s a good idea–it’s how Facebook verifies that you really do work at the place you mention in your profile. Until Twitter implements some sort of verification feature, the best advice that I can see is to grow your company’s network on your own.

    Thanks for sharing the link!

  3. “How can a reporter or a consumer know that this person can be a trusted source?”

    Find out. Do some legwork. I know it’s lofty thinking to believe that everyone is willing and able to do some legwork, but it’s tough to feel bad for people who don’t even try — especially reporters!

    Great post, Chris.

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