This week, Twitter hacking has been the corporate crisis of the moment. It started with Burger King on Monday, when their official Twitter handle @BurgerKing was hijacked and adorned with McDonaldsâ€™ branding, and claims that â€˜the whopper floppedâ€™ and had been bought by their arch-rival and a string of offensive tweets followed. On Tuesday, Jeep was taken over by the same group, claiming to now be under ownership of Cadillac. Both times the hacking was overt, with similarly offensive, irreverent and out of character tweets and bios which made it very clear that their claims were unfounded. Although a nightmare for the respective brandsâ€™ social media teams, these â€˜crisesâ€™ are unlikely to have any long-lasting impact on the organisations other than a timely reminder of the vulnerability of cyber security, and a giant leap in their social following â€“ @BurgerKing gained almost 30,000 followers during and after the hacking. Indeed, MTV was quick to spot this opportunity and created their own â€˜crisisâ€™ as they staged the â€˜hackingâ€™ of their own Twitter account as a PR stunt with the hashtag #MTVHACK.
However, there have been more subtle, and thus infinitely more damaging examples of â€˜brandjackingâ€™ in recent years. During the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 the Twitter handle @BPGlobalPR gained a huge following â€“ almost 10 times the number of followers of the official @BP_America account â€“ and frequently parodied their response (and lack thereof) to the disaster.
In the summer of 2012, Greenpeace launched a sophisticated and (initially) subtle campaign against Shellâ€™s projects in the Arctic with a replica website featuring childrenâ€™s games and user-generated adverts which quickly went viral. Many people were convinced that this was a real Shell marketing campaign, helped by a fake Twitter account that asked people not to share the content, threatened individual users with legal action and blended official Shell news with that of the fake website and Greenpeace brandjacking campaign.
Brandjacking threatens to become a real crisis when a brandâ€™s public voice is no longer controlled by the brand, but by their detractors. It is far more damaging if the public believes that this is the real voice of the organisation, and becomes an extremely delicate and difficult situation for the brand in question to handle. As digital media becomes more and more central to corporate communications and an integral essential for the vast majority of brands, it exposes new possibilities and vulnerabilities for reputational damage. Big name brands will always be the number one target, and they would be well advised to consider how they would respond to such an attack. Social media â€“ as a source of crisis, and as a channel to respond â€“ should be incorporated into every crisis management and crisis communications plan in todayâ€™s digital world.