Monday, March 08, 2010

When Your Brand Gets Squatted in Twitter…

Here’s another story about the importance of monitoring social media and missed opportunities. What would you do if you discovered that someone had created a Twitter account pretending to represent your brand or organization?

Not too long ago, an editor of Advertising Age, Michael Werch, decided to do an experiment. He wanted to see “how long it would take a brand to realize it was being impersonated, and what course of action would it take?” And “would the brand embrace the conversation or end it?

First, he had to pick a brand. He decided it had to be big, not active in social media, and something he liked. So he chose Heinz. He created a Twitter ID, @HJ_Heinz, put pictures of ketchup bottles in the background, and included a link to the Heinz web site. Then, he started sending tweets with links to recipes on the Heinz web site and interesting facts about Heinz.

Of course, when you set up a Twitter account, you have to get people to follow you. So he registered the ID with some directories and then searched for and followed people who had used the brand name in their tweets. If they tweeted something positive about Heinz, he retweeted them. He also targeted residents of Pittsburgh where the Heinz company is located.

He never heard from Heinz.

After two weeks, he did hear from the Twitter company. With no advance notice or warning, Twitter changed is ID to @NOThj_Heinz and removed the ketchup references and links to the company in his bio. He also got an e-mail from Twitter saying he was in violation of Twitter’s trademark rules.

Once he disclosed to his followers that he wasn’t affiliated with Heinz but was just a fan, his followers urged him to keep tweeting. They were fans too.

Heinz told Ad Age that they monitor social media every morning. If that’s so, why did it take almost two weeks for them to find Michael? Other stories indicate that Twitter acts quickly when they get a complaint about trademark infringement.

The bottom line is that for two weeks, someone was in effect stealing the company’s brand. Michael’s tweets were positive. But what if they’d been destructive?

And, since Michael’s work was successful in building a following of brand enthusiasts, why didn’t Heinz capitalize on it? Why didn’t they continue it by actively engaging their fans? Don’t brands usually want people talking about them positively?

In the online version of Michael’s Ad Age story, a commenter reported that he or she had done a similar experiment with a skateboarding company with completely different results: “Instead of contacting Twitter and shutting the account down, they DM'd me and we engaged in a conversation via email. The resolution was that I handed the Twitter account over to them and they sent me some Sector 9 schwag.”

I love this story because there are so many lessons here. It’s ok if you’re not quite ready to dive in to social media. It’s ok if you are still learning and formulating a plan. But it may not be ok to ignore what’s being said in your name. I’m just sayin’.