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.

BP Oil Spill and Social Media

BP are now caught in the middle of the worst possible scenario – one of the company’s oil drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico exploded on April 22 and sunk, resulting in a major environmental disaster as more than 5,000 barrels of oil leak into the ocean per day. The long term reputation of the company is at stake because of the accident, that in many instances has been labelled “the BP oil spill”. On the EPA site, for example, it is called “the British Petroleum Oil Spill” and even the link to the site is As the Star Phoenix notes, “in PR circles, if a disaster gets named after your company, this is a bad thing”.

This is obviously a horrible situation, on so many levels, and I don’t envy the people at BP that have to handle communication during this tough time. And nowadays, crisis management has extended into social media and it is a parameter a company need to integrate into its communication strategy.

Oil Spill

As one would expect, BP is taking a severe beating in social media right now, when consumers vent their frustration with the effects of the disaster. On Twitter, thousands of tweets are currently being published mentioning BP in connection with the oil spill. Many of them are also directly addressing BP’s US corporate Twitter account with angry comments, suggestions and questions.


However, BP are not responding to any of those comments. In fact, the company does not communicate much at all via @BP_America. The account does not respond, retweet or follow anyone else on Twitter (see Klout score below), making it a pure one way communication channel. On top of that, the few tweets that are being published are press releases syndicated to Twitter via Twitterfeed. Nothing wrong with that, but if you publish press releases on your site in capital letters, it doesn’t land well on Twitter, where it equals SHOUTING!


I don’t want to point fingers at BP for not using Twitter to its fullest potential in this difficult position. Instead, why not point to other stakeholders in this catastrophe that are doing things well?

BP oil spill

For example, the US Coast Guard has a Flickr account where it publishes photos and images under Creative Commons license. Images are displayed on as a slide show. In the menu of the site, there is even a section for “Social Media” which points to the U.S. Coast Guard’s presence on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. Update: I forgot to mention that this site is being maintained by British Petroleum, Transocean, the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Department.

The US Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, also uses social media. Administrator Lisa Jackson responds on Facebook and Twitter. I’m sure there are many more examples. The problem for a company in a crisis, especially when you are already in the “bad guy” position, is that when you leave an entire arena to your opponents, the damage to your brand in the long run may be worse than it would have to be. Facebook has more than 400 million members and that’s a big channel to leave unattended. If you do a search for “BP oil”, the first hit you get is the group Boycott BP Oil. As a contrast, the BP America Facebook page has not been updated since Feb 18, 2010. In other words, there is room for improvement.

Photo credit:

One tweet causes crisis for Vodafone

When social media enters the business world, a larger number of employees get to speak on behalf of the company than what was standard practice before. Often this is a good thing, but of course there can always be one or two bad apples that will take advantage of this new found power and try to harm the organization. That was probably what happened to Vodafone today when someone internally tweeted an obscene tweet from Vodafone’s corporate account. And since Twitter is Twitter, also bad news spread extremely fast. That’s why VodafoneUK currently is involved in some serious online crisis management, see their Twitter stream below.


The story is currently among the top tweeted stories on, but Vodafone is acting switfly to limit the damages before there are any major impact on its brand. They seem to be directly addressing a large number of people that are commenting on the issue or retweeting the obscene tweet. And I think Vodafone will manage to go quite unharmed through this incident. Fresh Networks sums it up nicely:

1.They responded quickly and said what was happening. In social media, people can spread messages quickly. Vodafone also responded quickly and said exactly what happened and was happening. It wasn’t a hack but an internal employee and that person was being dealt with.

2.They responded in the same place that people are talking about them. Vodafone responded to its Twitter followers on Twitter, using the VodafoneUK account. The key to crisis management in social media is to respond where people complain. Otherwise you risk alienating them and losing your role in the story.

Update: According to a statement from Vodafone, the employee has now been suspended. From the Telegraph: “The employee has been suspended immediately and we have started an internal investigation. This was not a hack and we apologise for any offence the tweet may have caused.”

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Kryptonite crisis and its impact on the blogosphere

Dave Sifry has an interesting graph on the number of blog posts in the blogosphere and how it relates to certain events. The Kryptonite bike lock controversy for example created two spikes – first when the news broke in the blogosphere, and second when traditional media picked up on the story which made bloggers discuss the implications.

The Kryptonite case will go down in history as classic example on what happens to a company’s reputation if it fails to handle crisis PR in a blog enabled world.

Via Mymarkup.