Brandjacking: 4 Ways to Respond

Your company is in the middle of a crisis. You wake up to find that someone has created a Facebook group with a name that references your CEO in unflattering terms.

Does your immediate reaction involve the words cease and desist?

As much as companies love to be in control of their brands’ image and reputation, complete control in the era of social media is impossible. And trying to have complete control could hurt your brand more than it helps.


Lately, some consumers have been showing how they feel about a company by setting up and running fake Twitter groups or unofficial Facebook pages, some complete with the company’s logo or other official images.

“Brandjacking” cases can be both malicious and well intentioned:

19 times more people are following @BPGlobalPR, a satirical account, than BP’s official account that tracks the oil spill, @oil_spill_2010. The tweets, while hilarious, are definitely not how BP wants people to associate with the brand.

You can follow Fake Lucas van Praag on Twitter, an account that lampoons Goldman Sachs’ head of PR. The account comes complete with van Praag’s actual headshot and funny tweets about the dirty work he does for CEO Lloyd Blankfein.

We’ve even seen some competition with our own Facebook group for Red White and Food, the campaign we’re working on to get wine in food stores. One Tennessean set up her own group that encourages people to support the cause.

Locally, someone created a Facebook group praising Gaylord Entertainment CEO Colin Reed for evacuating the Opryland Hotel before flood water entered the building, despite estimates that wouldn’t happen.

These fake or unofficial accounts are distracting and take time to monitor, regardless of whether they are malicious, created to draw attention to a cause, or just done so unaware that an official group exists.

Tone of your response is important

Brandjackers are often interested in attention. The rules of engagement for business disagreements (e.g. civility, privacy, etc.) just don’t apply.

They are highly likely to blog, tweet, and post about any conversations you have or correspondence you send to them. The first rule of responding: Don’t say anything or send anything that you wouldn’t want posted on their blog.

The second rule: Have an appropriate plan for responding.

We believe there are four ways companies can respond. The approach you choose may depend on the type of account, its popularity, and your organization’s culture.

1. Head in the sand

It’s perfectly valid not to respond. But don’t make the mistake of rationalizing to yourself that no one else is paying attention.

Many of the fake, satirical accounts have far more followers than the official ones. And while the person tweeting about your company may have just 100 followers, one of those followers may have 3,000 or more followers of their own. The more followers, the more likely a huge website like Mashable will pick up on it and write a story that will spread.

At minimum, assign someone to monitor the activity every day and review activity on a weekly basis.

2. Happy go lucky

Another approach is to accept unofficial groups or Twitter accounts as a natural part of the conversation. Some believe that any publicity is good publicity. We don’t subscribe entirely to that idea. We do believe accepting and engaging are opportunities for companies.

People like to know that companies are listening to their ideas and that they’re being heard. It helps build trust. There’s no way to participate in every conversation that’s happening around your brand, but you can be selective. Figure out which websites/groups are the most influential, and start there. Chime in from time to time with a comment or answer to a question. And be transparent—let others know that you’re an “official” voice for the company.

3. Herder

Herders appreciate the conversation and then use their energy to keep it focused.

When an unofficial Twitter account or Facebook group crops up, you begin to participate in the discussion. But you do it with a motive—to direct people back to the official company line (and sites and groups and Twitter accounts).

It’s important to engage others, but depending on the size of your company, you could spend all day doing nothing else. And depending on the group, your involvement could be well received or mocked mercilessly. You should take that into account before diving in, because it will factor into your tone and frequency. It’s important not to get defensive and to be transparent about who you are and why you’re there.

4. Heavy handed

This is the default response for most brands.

This may be the right approach in some extreme cases, but it comes across as controlling and domineering to the public. When its “fans” altered Nestle’s logo and posted comments that criticized the company’s use of palm oil, the person in charge of its Facebook page threatened to block anyone who used altered logos. It was within Nestle’s right to do so, but commenters didn’t respond well to what they saw as “Big Brother” tactics. Now it’s become a case study in how NOT to engage in social media.

The right mix of approaches is going to depend on your individual circumstances—if someone sets up a group to honor your CEO, it’s better not to insist they delete it. It’s important to keep an eye out for mentions of your brand on social media sites so you can pick up on a potential situation when it’s still early enough to do something about it.

Has this ever happened to your brand? How did you approach it? You can leave a comment by posting a review.

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