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Get Your Clients Twittering…Before Someone Else Does

Such is the shadowy nature of the web that, when a colleague told me that he’d found Britney Spears on Twitter-therealbritney-I didn’t believe that it was actually her.

A look through therealbritney’s profile reveals it likely is-personal details, links to her official site and Britney-branded wallpaper attest to its authenticity-but my immediate reaction is testimony to the number of fake profiles existing out on social networks.

If any of your clients are still reluctant to start using social media,  tell them that they’re not only missing out on a chance to connect with their stakeholders,  they’re opening the door for someone else to do it for them-and possibly with unsavoury results.

Organizations, especially high-profile ones,  are prone to being “brandjacked” on the web-profiles created with the organization’s name by a source outside of it-usually for the purpose of discrediting the org in question.

Twitter is especially prone to to this style of identity theft.  Without the need for a detailed profile, photos to post or groups to join, it’s much easier to create a false identity there than on other social networks. U.S.  oil giant Exxon Valdez was famously brandjacked on  Twitter earlier this year.

So what’s an organization to do, especially in the case of Twitter?  As seen with my reaction to Britney’s Twittering,  even a real profile can be met with skepticism.

The same rules apply for most PR campaigns.   Establish a presence on social networks,  reveal necessary (but not necessarily confidential) information and establish modes for two-way communication.  I’ll give credit to Twitter for this:

It will establish you as truly the one and only-even if a host of pretenders are clamouring for attention as well.

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PRJack

Just to play Devil's Advocate here… There is an entirely different way of looking at how people talk about a brand via Social Media. And that is to ignore it. Sounds wacky? Think of it this way… Social media is all about personal interaction. It's also all about these interactions occurring without the heavy hand of marketing hype swaying things. The bottom line is that whether it's Facebook, MySpace, twitter, etc. SM is all about people talking to people. Sounds rather like the 'offline world' doesn't it? n nSo in the same way that there is no way to play 'brand police' when people are gathered at the pub or dog park talking about whatever, it may be a more than overwhelming task to fully and effectively do that everywhere in the SM space. When I'm talking with friends at the bar our 'in-bar conversation' isn't being overtly or directly guided by an external brand take part in our conversation. Rather, we incorporate any brand messaging that we encountered _from other sources_ into our conversation. In other words the brand impact is indirect (still valid) but the brand is not an actual participant of our conversation. n nSo while there is an 'opportunity' to use SM in marketing, I'd caution that it's not a wide open door. SM Marketers have to tread carefully – otherwise by merely 'butting in' to conversations they can undo any good they set out to do. n nInterestingly, this is pretty much the way some pretty big marketers are thinking. PepsiCo, for example, does its own SM Marketing stuff, but it doesn't wade into other conversations – ones where its presence (even if acting as a brand steward) would be seen as an overt and unwanted attempt to market itself.

Christie Adams

That's all true. I'll argue that there are now two levels of personal interaction going on: in real life and through social media. n nOrgs shouldn't blindly charge into social media just because they "have to"-but they also have to be aware that there are people out there who are ready to use their brand name to discredit the organization. n nI think this holds especially true for companies that have met controversy before-such as Exxon. n nSocial media should never be done for the sake of doing social media-but companies still need to follow what's being said about them online.

PRJack

Good points Christie. But following what's being said doesn't necessitate overt interaction in that conversation. There have always been people talking badly about brands. When that was done via a regulated source (i.e. traditional media) then things such as slander and libel were legitimate counters. n nHowever in free and open expression of opinion (coffee shop or forum or blog or any other mode of person to person interaction, real or online) is it really possible for a brand to stick its nose in everywhere that people are talking about it – rightly or wrongly? And if it can't be everywhere all the time, where is the right spot to 'draw the line?' n n(He said with his Devil's Advocate cap still firmly perched on head.)

Christie Adams

(Puts the Devil's Advocate cap on her own head) n nIt really might come down to that-can a brand be everywhere at once, and should it be? n nThe answer there is no, but I think what matters more is to be PRESENT. The line can be drawn before social networks that are 1. Heavily used like Facebook and MySpace and 2. can easily be used to impersonate someone else, like Twitter. n nAnd 3, of course, if it makes sense to be active on those networks, if any. n nI believe that, at the end of the day, a company with a large youth following should be active on Facebook or Twitter, not only because it's what's expected of them, but also because if they're not talking, people will be talking about them anyways.

Judy Gombita

Here is part of the answer from (PR academic guru), James Grunig, when I asked him about PR and social media in a recent group interview on our blog. Note that he uses corporate blogs as a point of reference, though, not Twitter: n n"I also think organizations should sponsor their own blogs to engage directly in dialogue with people who want to communicate with them. When engaging with people on their own blogs, I think it is a matter of judgement whether to simply listen to what people are saying about you or the organization and when to intervene. n nIf bloggers are interpreting the actions of you or the organization accurately, I think it is best to stay out so as not to change the nature of the discussion. n nIf you are being interpreted inaccurately, however, then I think you should intervene to try to correct or enlarge the interpretation. n nOne must be respectful, however, because an intemperate response will typically anger the other bloggers and make the situation worse. n nGenerally, this is what I try to do personally when I become aware of blogs in which people are discussing my theories and research."

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