The problem with Twitter handles of sports stars

I just read an article (in Swedish) today about the top EURO 2012 football players in social media. It reveals that Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo is the footballer with most followers on Twitter and Facebook, in total 56 million followers (10.3 on Twitter and 45.9 on Facebook). Add to that the he also has 6.6 million followers on the Chinese equivalent to Twitter, Tencent Weibo.

The article doesn’t link to the official accounts of the sports stars, which is why I decided to write this blog post. You see, the correct accounts are sometimes very hard to find, especially on Twitter and certainly when media like Dagens Media misspell their names.

cristiano ronaldo

I see three main reasons for this.

The first is that many celebrities have had their real names “brandjacked” by people pretending to be them, forcing them to make up Twitter handles that are, well, “creative”. For example, Manchester United defender (not in the EURO 2012 for controversial reasons) Rio Ferdinand’s Twitter handle is @rioferdy5 instead of the anticipated @rioferdinand (which is not active). Ferdinand would have no trouble taking over the handle with his real name if he wanted to. I have done that myself for several well known brands.

The second reason it is hard to find the official accounts is that neither Twitter nor Facebook have especially good search engines of their own. Sometimes you may get the best result, but not always. A third reason is that Twitter is not doing much to remove fake accounts that pose as official. A search on Twitter for “Rio Ferdinand” displays a number of fake “official” accounts. The one with the handle “RIOFERDY5” is actually not the same as “rioferdy5” since the “I” is in fact the letter “L”.

rio ferdinand twitter

The inability to be sure that an account is an official account causes a lot of unnecessary confusion, especially for the celebrities when media sometimes quote fake tweets. Italian Serie A club AC Milan tweeted that a fake account was in fact the official one by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of its star players. There is still a lot of confusion around if he even has an account, a PR agency once confirmed that they run one account on behalf of him or his team, but Ibrahimovic himself seems oblivious to the fact that he is on Twitter.

Ferdinand’s team mate Wayne Rooney used to be know as @Wazzaroon08 on Twitter, but is now @WayneRooney.

Another uncertain account is that of Leo Messi, the world’s top footballer. Certainly a player like him, who has 36 million Facebook fans, would have more than some 90,000 followers on Twitter? But his own club, FC Barcelona, is following one account (@messi_barcelona) that should be the official one, one would assume. It has only 93,000 followers and if you click on the link in the bio, you get a warning message from, saying this link is potentially not safe to click (I haven’t clicked, so I don’t know if it is safe). The account has only tweets automatically published via Twitterfeed, so by the looks of it, this is not the real deal.

bitly warning

Then again, is the @FCB account really an official account for the club? Seems so, because @andresiniesta8 is following it.

This confusion is not good for anyone, so Twitter should take more responsibility for removing fake accounts and maybe we as users can be more active in reporting them. Then again, the option we have is to report accounts for spamming, and that’s not really what this is about, so they label on that button may deter many from reporting these accounts. Celebrities and brands on the other hand, should be more active in trying to get their accounts labelled “verified”, which I still see as the best proof that an account belongs to an official source.

Barack Obama brandjacked on Pinterest – updated

[Updated – see end of the post] Yesterday Mashable noted that Barack Obama had joined yet another social network, namely the much hyped Pinterest. At that point, the account had no boards. I must admit that I thought that it was an official account for the Obama/Biden campaign. I couldn’t for the life of me think that the campaign people and/or Pinterest would allow someone to snatch the username “barackobama” from the US President. But it seems both Mashable and I were wrong.

The Pinterest account has now posted one board, but it does not at all look like the kind of content you thought would be pinned by Obama. In fact, when you hold the cursor over the board you will notice that the link points to a board by another user: This board has some 440 pins, including some images that are NSFW.

Pin It

Barack Obama Pinterest

I don’t know how this is done technically. When I look at my own Pinterest profile I only see boards that are my own. But “mikestreet” has the very same board with the same images on his profile, so clearly this must be a fake Obama account. What do you think? Could there be another explanation?

Update: I emailed with Lauren Orsini who gave a reasonable explanation to what happened. The account is probably not fake at all, but the board seen above in my screen shot was put there as a joke by Mike Street. You see, there is a way to add other Pinterest users as collaborators to your boards and when you do, that board will appear on their profile too. This can be used with great effect if you are doing it to an inactive account, like a celebrity for example, they will not notice they have been added. So the Obama account was not paying attention that Mike added it as collaborator, making us believe that Obama had created a board named #BroPin. Lauren has written about that security flaw here – How to hijack popular brands on Pinterest for free publicity.

Although I don’t recommend that you do this on Pinterest, I must admit I was fooled. Well played!

Brand-jacking on Twitter new challenge for PR

As if BP didn’t have enough problems in the aftermath of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the sarcastic tweets from the not-so-official Twitter account @BPGlobalPR has taken the twitterverse by storm. And not only has the person behind the account attracted 130,000 followers, he has also spawned a number of copy cats and started something of a trend. After the Israeli attack on the Flotilla convoy a few days ago, two similar Twitter accounts soon appeared – @IsraelGlobalPR  and @HamasGlobalPR – both using fake Twitter handles to try to influence the opinion.

Of course, it doesn’t end there. Meet @PunchTavernPR, the unofficial Twitter channel for the UK pub group Punch Taverns. It was launched after an incident on Saturday afternoon, when a group from the LGBT Labour Annual General Meeting was turned away from the Greencoat Boy pub in central London, a pub owned by Punch Taverns. The group of around 100 people were allegedly refused service by the manager because they were gay. It didn’t take long before people started to voice their opinions on social media channels, primarily on Twitter. According to the Guardian, the flood of tweets started after @LGBTLabour tweeted about it.

The hashtag #Greencoatboy soon became a trending topic in the UK and other tags that were used were for example #bigotbar and #boycottpunch. Articles about the incident were among the most read on BBC’s website yesterday.

On top of that, someone started the fake Twitter account PunchTavernPR, spewing out tweets like this one:


The negative publicity in both traditional media and social media forced Punch Taverns to apologize in a statement on Sunday.

Brands have been hijacked on Twitter for a long time, remember the fake corporate Twitter account from Exxon Mobil in 2008? But now the blow more often seems to be directed specifically towards corporate public relations in what I can only describe as the digital equivalent to preemtive strike. What better way to get the opposing side in a conflict look bad than to mock the PR departement with silly jokes and ironic remarks? It can be very tricky to defend yourself against humor.

But all in all, this is not a good sign for PR. I get the feeling that this trend has emerged because people are sick of bad public relations efforts during crisis situations. It’s still all too common that when a corporation or an organization is facing a real crisis, it is slow to respond and when it does act, it uses half-truths and stonewalling tactics.

Perhaps it is a wake up-call for corporate PR. My advice would be to study this trend carefully and think through, what would our company do if we got brandjacked on Twitter in a crisis? It’s not an easy task to deal with.

Related about “Twitterjacking”: Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Twitter.