Fake Twitter profile shows untapped online audience

The recent "brandjacking" by a purported representative of ExxonMobil on Twitter provoked some substantial discussion among digital media experts about the importance of media monitoring and transparency of communications online, but there's another lesson there as well: A newfound audience.

The recent "brandjacking" by a purported representative of ExxonMobil on Twitter provoked some substantial discussion among digital media experts about the importance of media monitoring and transparency of communications online, but there's another lesson there as well: A newfound audience.

The account, run by someone who called herself (or, perhaps, himself) "Janet," is still active, and has amassed more than 500 followers, a substantial number for the messaging site, and more importantly, an audience apparently eager to hear from the oil company, which just posted record profits. Despite the number of ways that the public can receive communications from corporations, they are still clearly hungry for more.

After discovery of the account, Exxon told PRWeek it has asked Twitter to give it control of the fake account. The company declined to say whether it would Twitter or not.

The incident, though, can serve as a reminder that if companies do not direct their brand in these new spheres, someone else will. As people say about parties or any social gathering: Be there or be talked about.

"Janet" actually makes a number of statements about Exxon policies that are basically positive, discussing, for instance, the company's reinvestment of revenue in research and development to reduce the long-term cost of petroleum, and its effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But as every PR pro has learned, today's audiences do not appreciate being tricked or given half-truths. They want as much information as possible, but only if it's truthful.

It's probably not entirely possible to stop this sort of corporate identity theft online, given the digital real estate that companies must cover, but there's clearly an audience out there looking for Twitter updates and they deserve a legitimate news source.

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