Faking Out The Twittersphere

    August 4, 2008
    WebProNews Staff

Just as always on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. You could be, as far as anybody can tell, an Exxon Mobil flack spreading good news in turbulent, record-profit times via Twitter. Who could tell otherwise? Exxon could, and did, disown "Janet" as not one of their official tweeters.

The Houston Chronicle had a surprise not just for Exxon’s PR crew, but also for ExxonMobilCorp‘s (aka Janet’s) 361 followers on Twitter. The person who’d been tweeting for the company and replying to messages on behalf of it was not on Exxon’s payroll.

She wasn’t a malicious presence. Janet had only nice things to say, tweeting about Exxon’s charitable efforts in Africa and Indonesia, cheering on Obama’s new openness to off-shore drilling, and announcing support of "McCain’s tax break."

Well, duh on that last one. Why would someone fake a big company’s Twitter account? Why did people stand in line for "The Dark Knight" or buy scalped tickets when all they had to do was wait until the next day? Sometimes, there is no good reason for anything.

Communications expert Shel Holtz noticed a red flag or two before the Houston Chronicle got hold of the news. Specifically, an expert communicator wouldn’t downplay a disaster like the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989; the background of Janet’s Twitter account featured photos of Exxon gas stations, which the company officially plans to sell.

"The Janet incident should make it painfully clear just how easy it is for somebody to step in and represent your organization with inaccurate and even damaging information using these very channels," wrote Holtz.

Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang was also early discovering Exxon had been "brand jacked," and bemoaned the lack of ability to confirm true social media profiles. In addition to companies closely monitoring their brands, Owyang suggested Exxon step forward with their own social media presence and that the community be employed to confirm identities in some way.