Brandjacking: How to Prevent Trolls and Other Internet Pirates From Harming Your Brand

Brandjacking isn’t new. These pranks, however, these are gaining visibility as social media becomes more widely adopted by the broader population.

Last week, another major brand was hijacked online with someone who assumed a brand’s identity and engaged with individuals on social media under false pretenses. Sadly, this has become a way too common trend.

When global retailer Target announced it was removing gender descriptions from in-store signage within its children’s toy sections, many people reacted to this news via the brand’s Facebook page. Unsurprisingly, some of the posts included negative comments criticizing the company’s decision.

A Facebook account called “Ask ForHelp,” which used the Target logo as a profile picture, was created to impersonate Target customer service and responded to some of the unhappy customers with snarky, flippant answers.

Along with an official statement outing the stunt as being an incident facilitated by a fraudster, Target responded to the troll situation with humor. The company posted a photo of retro troll dolls (above) to its Facebook page accompanied by text that said: “Remember when Trolls were the kings of the world? Woo hoo! They’re back and only at Target stores.”

Not only did Target manage to flip the brandjacking crisis, they amassed critical customer support. Thus far, the post of tiny trolls has been shared more than 17,000 times, liked by more than 53,000 people, and racked up nearly 5,000 comments, most of which are overwhelmingly positive.

Brandjacking isn’t new. These pranks, however, these are gaining visibility as social media becomes more widely adopted by the broader population.

These days, Brandjacking usually takes one of three forms.

  • Pranking or trolling the brand for fun (like “Ask ForHelp” did with Target”
  • Phishing attempts that try to gain personal or financial information by impersonating large online sellers or financial institutions
  • Activists targeting brands for harassment with the aim of making a political statement

The risk associated with brandjacking goes deeper than embarrassment; the potential for loss of customer trust or a decline in revenue is significant. It can also give greater visibility to a little-known issue that otherwise may have gone unnoticed by the general public. And, if not handled well, there can be long-term ramifications for how consumers perceive the brand.

What’s a brand to do?

Step 1: Prevention

First and foremost, the most strategic way to handle a brandjacking crisis is to prevent it from happening altogether. This requires a program to monitor and protect the brand and your customers across the social web. Without a plan, brand representatives are left scrambling to address a public issue in real-time. For Target, whom most agree handled the situation as well as possible, it took 16 hours before they could get the page shut down.

Key to prevention:

  • Find a solution that involves the human review of social media posts and brand mentions. Software alone is not a safeguard and can’t replace human analysis or empathy.
  • Quickly identify threats and hostile conversations so you can determine if a response is required
  • When appropriate, escalate and funnel legitimate customer inquiries to the appropriate internal teams for response
  • Engage more customers 1-on-1 conversations so they know where to find authentic connections with your company

Step 2: Plan

For Fortune 500 brands, it’s not a matter of if you’ll be brandjacked, but when. Having the proper crisis response plan in place will ensure a speedier, more comprehensive response to the situation. It can prevent brand damage or even turn the crisis into a positive moment–just like Target did.

Step 3: Repairing the damage

If you’re brandjacked, it’s important to address it promptly and decisively, which means getting in front of the crisis with customers and media. Look for every instance of misrepresented communication to customers and reply with corrected information, if possible. It doesn’t hurt to go big with your announcement so your brand’s side of the story will be picked up by the media and heard by your customers.

The moment you learn of brandjacking, you need to ban that offending profile from posting on your page, and then connect directly with the appropriate social media channel, such as Facebook, to get the account banned. While this doesn’t prevent those same people from making new fake profiles and trying again, it does alert the company that someone is attacking your brand so they’ll pay more attention to other variations of fake accounts. The latter also helps ensure consumers, key stakeholders, and media outlets that those rogue posts are indeed fakes.

You must also have a multidisciplinary team who is empowered and capable to get the messaging out quickly. Include those in public relations, legal, marketing, and product roles to be sure you have all hands on deck, as well as differing perspectives, to best address the situation. At the same time, you want to make sure your response isn’t rushed, which could just add fuel to the fire.

Next, look for opportunities to flip the crisis in your brand’s favor.

  • Use gravitas and over-reaching help if it’s a financial breach
  • Use humor and acknowledgement of the gag if it’s clearly a prank
  • Use facts and human interest stories if it’s an activist attack

Obviously this level of prevention, planning and response isn’t easy – but there are solutions. At LiveWorld, we have been helping brands connect with customers in social media through online communities and social networks for 19 years. Over that time, we’ve been able to develop processes and technology that allows us to efficiently monitor brand activity and spot rogue accounts. For social media professionals, determining the right balance of objectives when performing brand protection, moderation, or social listening is critical,

LiveWorld doesn’t work with Target, but approved of Target’s pitch-perfect response to yet another social media troll.

As Director of Social Strategy and Content Programming at LiveWorld, Mark Williams combines his experience in building online communities and developing innovative engagement marketing campaigns with 20 years in the entertainment industry to help clients create a unique social networking strategy that deepens the brand experience for our customers. Connect with Mark on LinkedIn and @markwilliams on Twitter. 

Image courtesy of Target on Facebook.