How to protect your brand from social media impersonators

It was a quiet afternoon in the office. The social media team had just finished pinning the latest catalogue to Pinterest and were checking their Facebook ad campaign results. Twitter was chirping away nicely and Instagram notifications lit up the social media dashboard like fairy lights swaying in the breeze on a warm summers evening. A few hours ago a corporate announcement was made. Someone had just jammed the photocopier and the Nespresso machine just ran out of latte capsules. Again.

Situation normal.

This could be any workplace.
This could be any social media team.
But what is about to happen, could happen again on any network, at any time, to any brand.

Over at Target HQ, the morning’s corporate announcement around removing gender specific signage in stores had started to gain some media traction. Mostly positive. A few negative Facebook posts and comments were beginning to appear.

This wouldn’t have been unexpected. It would have been planned for. To quote Taylor Swift “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate”.

And they are hating.
On Target’s Facebook wall.
On Target’s Twitter feed.
Oh, and wouldn’t you know it, on the customer complaints hotline too.
No surprises there for anyone — not Target, nor anyone in business.

And then a Facebook comment appears in response to a customer’s post hating on the announcement. Hang on… that looks like it came from TARGET!

I have a mental image of how this next part would have played out at Target HQ:

[Social media manager storms into office waving an iPad]
Who wrote this?!
[Social media team glance up from their dual screen dashboards, look around dazed and confused…]
This comment; right here in response to this customer … who wrote this?!
[Blank glances are shared around the room…]
As the collective “Nope, wasn’t me, No, and not me’s” are muttered confusion sets in.
Did we say that?!
We didn’t…?
Accusations fly.
Did you? Did they? Then… who did?
[By this stage the social media team are looking at each other bewildered]

And then something totally unexpected happens.

While everyone has their hands in the air and are purposefully leaning away from their keyboards, another “reply” pops up.

And the penny drops.

It’s a Troll !!!
Someone is pretending to be US!!
Huh. This is new… Hang on, they are defending US!!! [Laughs all round]
I wish we could say this stuff to some of our customers!!! [More laughs]
Oh — hang on, WE ARE going to be accountable for these comments… [silence]
[Intern starts scouring LinkedIn for a contact at Facebook while the team click-delete-reports each comment at warp speed.]

The savage truth is – it’s beyond easy to impersonate a brand (or person) on social media.

In Target’s case, it took Facebook 16 hours to shut the offending account down but that wasn’t before screen shots were taken, blogs appeared, and Target’s announcement was effectively hijacked by the deluge of media around this Facebook Imposter saying what some brands perhaps secretly wished they really could say in response to bigoted customers.

The lesson?

Vigilant social media monitoring is essential.

It’s no longer enough to have a daily digest of mentions sent you each morning by a company you contract to provide media analysis.

  • You need to have your finger on the social media pulse in real time. 24 hours is a very long time on social media.

You can’t post content and then forget about it. If you think broadcasting a monologue is content marketing, you don’t have a social media strategy.

  • Your audience’s comments could be your first clues to an impending crises. Your active engagement in the social sphere builds your village of support — who may well come to your aid or defence when crisis hits.

Crises can come from unexpected sources. Being prepared for a multitude of social media risks is essential.

  • How well is your team trained and equipped to deal with an imposter hijacking your social media account/s? How quickly could you identify that this is actually what is happening? How quickly could you shut it down?

Social media tools are great; people are better.

DO have a sentiment analysis tools on hand, but don’t form an over reliance on them. Common sense should always prevail.

DO have as-it-happens monitoring in place so that if an imposter springs up on social media, you are the first to know about it. Not the last, after the media have called for comment.

DO expect the unexpected. Social media is by nature dynamic — don’t assume your threats and risks will be any different.

Any brand. Any network. Any time.

Prevention via vigilance, really is your best defence against social media impersonators.

Is this scenario in your social media crisis communications plan?