Saturday, August 02, 2008

Is your agency monitoring or pre-empting online impersonators?

With the vast array of online social media tools now out there, it's inevitable that a few individuals will use them in a malicious way to discredit organisations.

Where organisations are not keeping an eye on these online channels, there is the possibility that the impact of comments - made in public to large groups of participants - could be substantial.

A current case in point is the fake Exxon Mobil tweeter. Someone, purporting to be a representative of Exxon, has been using Twitter, a very popular micro-blogging application, to make comments about the organisation's activities.

In this case, however, the comments are positive - although not representative.

As reported in The Houston Chronicle, Exxon Mobil says it's not behind its' Twitter account,

To many, Exxon Mobil is the picture of control, a disciplined corporation that stays on message in a simple, staid manner through oil booms and busts.

That's why a new participant on the social networking site earlier this week was a bit of a surprise.

According to the online bio, "Janet" at ExxonMobilCorp in Irving was "Taking on the world's toughest energy challenges."

In the brief, 140-character snippets Twitter allows, she points out the oil giant's philanthropic efforts, answers questions about the company's policies and even laments a shortage of caramel apple sugar babies at one Exxon retail outlet.

This foray into the new media frontier for one of corporate America's blue chip companies might seem ground-breaking if it wasn't for one thing:

"That's not us," said Alan Jeffers, spokesman for Exxon Mobil.

"Janet" isn't part of Exxon's public relations machinery — the company said it has no idea who she is and wasn't aware of her until the Chronicle called to ask.

In this case Exxon was unaware until the media contacted the company and presumably was not monitoring online social media to see what was being said about, or purportedly on behalf of the organisation.

I expect they will be reviewing this position for the future.

Note that I am not advocating that organisations take a censorship approach. It is impossible to prevent people from talking about organisations, whether in the pub, in the home or online.

However it is possible to become part of this conversation - and ensure that the messages being conveyed appropriately reflect the actual views of the organisation.

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