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.