How Social Media is Hurting Corporations

Does your organization or company use social media for public relations? If so, watch what you post or your audiences might start seeing double.

Fake public relations social media accounts are a rising trend in internet tolling. No longer are dissatisfied consumers and irate activists confined to personal accounts or the comment sections of news websites. A single motivated individual can now reach huge audiences by creating a mock corporate social media account. These accounts often post humorous and harmful messages that can cause a public relations nightmare for the most astute crisis management expert.

Two of the most prominent examples of mock social media accounts in recent history are the @BPGlobalPR and @KennethColePR twitter accounts. BP faced a public relations disaster after an explosion in one of its oil pipelines flooded the Gulf Coast with millions of barrels of oil in the spring of 2010. Soon after the initial explosion, the fake public relations twitter account @BPGlobalPR came into existence – much to the chagrin of BP’s real twitter account @BP_America. Memorable tweets from @BPGlobalPR include “Negative people view the ocean as half empty of oil. We are dedicated to making it half full. Stay positive America!” and “What a gorgeous day! The ocean is filled with the most beautiful rainbows! #yourewelcome #bpcares.” To this day, @BPGlobalPR has around 160,000 more followers than @BP_America.

Kenneth Cole recently found itself in a bit of hot water after a blunder on its corporate twitter account. The account, @KennethCole, tweeted, “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo -KC.” The very same day the fake twitter account @KennethColePR was created and started tweeting similarly fashioned product plugs with a noticeably more malicious undertone. One tweet read, “South Africans won’t be able to tear APARTheid my new knits – they’re just that strong! #KennethColeTweets.” The @KennethColePR account was only active for two days but managed to get over 7,000 followers.

The backlash against Kenneth Cole did not stop there. Mashable reported that a decal of the original @KennethCole was plastered to the storefront of its Kenneth Cole’s San Francisco location. As if the social media blunder wasn’t big enough already, multiple national news organizations also picked up on the story including Forbes and The Huffington Post.
So what is a corporation to do? BP unsuccessfully tried to get @BPGlobalPR removed (instead the account had to clarify that it was fake). In Kenneth Cole’s case, removing the offensive tweet and offering a half-hearted apology was not enough to quell peoples’ anger.

Kenneth Cole’s official twitter account has not made a single post since February 4. Is silence the best answer? How would you deal with a corporate social media blunder?

This guest blog was written by PRowl Public Relations staff member Doug Bennett.

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