I was recently reading an interesting blog post on the topic of ‘Brandjacking’, and what it means for public relations professionals in terms of how they manage the online presence of brands they are working with.
This struck me as an interesting topic as it encapsulates all of the potential issues PR faces when working with Web 2.0. Is is an excellent demonstration of the democratic nature of the internet, especially on Web 2.0 platforms, in that a single person has as much potential influence and sway as a billion-dollar multinational brand. It also demonstrated very clearly the how the internet is so unpredictable and difficult to control.
The example of brandjacking (a term that was only coined 7 years ago, again showing how quickly the influence of social media has arisen) that the author used was of @BPGlobalPR, which arose in 2010 during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
I thought this case study was a special one as the brandjacker was so successful in reaching an enormous number of people (@BPGlobalPR had 16,500 followers after 10 hours, 26,800 followers after 24 hours), which further damaged the image of BP, which was in a critical condition thanks to the oil disaster. The user now has 135,000 followers and is still active.
However this was just one person, acting either to publicize his or her own anti-oil views, or doing it just for a laugh and a bit of attention. Another kind of brandjacking I’d briefly like to mention is brand-to-brand.
Again from the oil sector, this example was perpetrated by Greenpeace, who made a fake website called ‘Arctic Ready’ to look exactly the same as Shell Oil’s site, ‘Shell in the Arctic’. On the site they published blatant anti-environment messages and allowed users to make their own fake Shell advertisements.
This is an example of one brand piggybacking on the internet traffic of another, that has totally opposing values, in order to promote their own values. The fake site is still up and running and regularly updated. It also holds the highest Google page rank for related search terms.
The best way to avoid this happening to your brand is to already have a firm hold on your own online intellectual property. A person isn’t going to believe a faked Twitter account spreading negative press about you if they are already following your legitimate account. It is also extremely important to monitor your online presence and what is being said about your brand, so that if you find that you have been brandjacked, you can respond to it quickly. It is important to correct anything false that has been said about your brand, making clear it is a fake account and that nothing published on it is from your brand. However, if you find that you have been brandjacked, it’s probably too late to escape completely unscathed.
With the enormous amount of content being generated every minute on different forms of social media, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ensure that your message is getting to the people who you want to see it.
These kinds of statistics are reminders of just how much content is being generated by social media users, and how it is becoming increasingly difficult for communications professionals to effectively use social media to speak to their public’s.
Facebook specifically is a more difficult social media to communicate through, as there are around 1,500 stories that are relevant to each person daily that might appear on their newsfeed and thanks to different organisational algorithms, inevitably not all will. This contrasts to Instagram and Twitter, which display everything that is posted by those who are followed by each user.
In August 2013, Facebook changed their newsfeed algorithm, abandoning the previous algorithm known as EdgeRank, so that their users would see more of the stories that were relevant to them. It was thought that EdgeRank used only three main keys; Affinity, Weight and Time Decay, in order to decide how a persons newsfeed would be organised. These three keys that were reveled gave PR and marketing practitioners some idea of how they should try and tackle capturing their audiences attention on Facebook.
Since August last year however, it was revealed that there are now closer to 100,000 individual weights to decide what would appear on a persons Facebook newsfeed. This level of specificity makes it increasingly difficult to predict what tactics might be employed to ensure that a post by an organisation will be seen by it’s target public’s.
The answer, it seems is complex. Ensure that you cover a variety of different social media, rather than relying on only one or two to communicate to your target publics. Similarly, there need to be a focus on quality, not quantity on Facebook, as there is a lower likelihood of a person seeing it. This means you need to engage them instantly, and provide them with content that they will be able to share with their friends, thus increasing the reach of your message as it is more likely it will show up on their newsfeed if their friends share it.