Social media

Twitter hacking, Burger King, and brand erosion

Over the years a number of high profile users have fallen victim to hackers on Twitter – including celebrities such as Justin Bieber, various US senators and even UK politician Harriet Harman. And then of course there was Fox News (@foxnewspolitics) who were hacked in 2011, and appeared to post that President Obama had been fatally shot whilst on the campaign trail – this was not removed for ten hours.

Yesterday the hacker group, Anonymous, claimed their latest victim: Burger King.

They renamed the account McDonald’s and claimed that Burger King “just got sold to McDonalds because the whopper flopped”. They then proceeded to send out various tweets which were most definitely not ‘on brand’. So just how damaging is a hacking incident such as this to a brand, and how does it affect consumers' brand perceptions? Well, in this case Burger King gained 30,000 new followers in under an hour. However, it was very obviously a hack and, with even McDonald’s showing some sympathy, it is unlikely that much brand erosion occurred.

In comparison, last month British retailer HMV were subject to disgruntled employees taking over their official Twitter account to “tweet live from HR” about a mass firing and how they now wanted to “tell the truth”. What made this more credible was that while unauthorised, this was a real news story and undoubtedly further damaged an already struggling brand.

Superficially, the moral appears to be Twitterati are quite capable of judging the credibility of brands that use social media, but perhaps the real conclusion is that the brand that is really being damaged is Twitter itself. This hacking whopper will remind users of the negative PR around Twitter’s apparently lax privacy controls following their recent admission that earlier this month over 250,000 accounts were compromised.

The incident just serves as a reminder that whilst Twitter and other social media platforms are valuable marketing tools, enabling brands to stay current, and engage on a more personal level with consumers in real time, it can be a double edged sword if misused, posing a risk to brand value.

Monitoring social media 24/7 may not be realistic for a lot of brands – especially if it is President’s Day –  but this incident does highlight this the need to consider your brand specifically in light of its social media presence and react quickly and effectively to any mishaps. For now, Burger King have responded in good humour  - but the loss of their verification badge is an enduring scar.