Did you know that Exxon Mobil has "supported local NGOs in Angola and Indonesia to develop their capacity to effectively partner with multinational companies"?

Or that "Exxon Mobil has spent over $13m in the Save The Tiger Fund since 1992"?

Probably not.

But if you had been following Exxon Mobil's account on Twitter you would have known all sorts of interesting things about the company that just reported second quarter earnings of $11.6bn.

There would have been one problem, however.

Exxon Mobil's Twitter account, operated by a woman named "Janet," is not actually Exxon Mobil's account.

According to the Houston Chronicle:

"'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."

While Janet's tweets may not have been so "over-the-top" as to be blatantly fake, I find it amusing that the Twitter community and social media experts fell for the Exxon Mobil Twitter account hook, line and sinker.

Forrester's Jeremiah Owyang dedicated an entire post to Exxon Mobil's social media efforts on Twitter pointing out such things as:

"You’ll also notice when you visit the Exxon Twitter account that Janet is directly and actively engaging with others, she @replies back at folks, responding to their queries, all a good practice.

"While I don’t know which group is responsible for this effort at Exxon, (likely Corp Comm, backed by PR firm) it’ll be interesting to see how they handle the many criticisms in their industry. As soon as Janet releases her full name, I’ll be sure to add her to the growing list of Community Managers at enterprise corporations."

Apparently ignorant of the fact that Exxon Mobil is the world's largest company by revenue, employs over 100,000 people and operates in some of the most difficult environments in the world, Owyang went on to ask:

"Is Exxon ready to make these important changes beyond discussing it in public?"

"Is this Community Team backed from the top, and ready for the long haul?"

"Will this effort impact the bottom line, or change public perception?"


Of course, after learning that "Janet" and the ExxonMobilCorp account are not legitimate, Owyang proceeded to argue that "brand jacking" is a big problem and that "brands should be monitoring the discussion and instances of their keywords in social networks". This is because "failure to do so results in becoming case studies."

A case study? I'm sure Rex Tillerson, Exxon Mobil's Chairman and CEO, is worried about Exxon Mobil becoming the subject of a Forrester case study.

To be fair, of course, there's some truth to what Owyang is saying. Prominent companies shouldn't be so disconnected from the internet that they're completely ignorant about what is being said about them online.

But let's be realistic - companies have very little ability follow everything and to eliminate the possibility that they'll be "brand jacked."

With millions upon millions of websites, including thousands upon thousands of popular and semi-popular community-based online services, it's difficult (and probably cost-prohibitive) to monitor and more importantly, analyze, everything that is being said about your company online.

And stopping individuals from "jacking" your brand by setting up a fake account somewhere is all but impossible.

So what's a company to do? At the end of the day, a simple risk-reward analysis should dictate company strategy.

In the case of Exxon Mobil, it's easy to look at its Twitter "brand jacking" on a theoretical level, but on a practical level the fake Twitter account really isn't going to harm the company.

Beyond the fact that the fake Exxon Mobil account currently has less than 500 followers, Exxon Mobil is a gigantic company in an unpopular industry that polarizes people. Yet at the end of the day it sells products that the world can't live without.

As such, Exxon Mobil is realistically in a position where it will have a difficult time changing any negative perceptions some individuals may have about its business. But as its second quarter earnings demonstrate, its profits aren't tied to popularity.

Clearly, Exxon Mobil has little to lose from a fake Twitter account. But does it have anything to gain from being more proactive on services like Twitter?

For the same reasons, I would argue that it does not.

All this aside, I think Exxon Mobil's "brand jacking" on Twitter says more individuals than it says about the ways companies manage their brands online.

In my opinion, it highlights the fact that many internet users are simply far too gullible.

To his credit, Owyang at least acknowledges this:

"It was too easy for someone to assume a brand’s identity and we all fell for it, myself obviously. We need to first determine if these are the real employees and validate. I’m exploring some ways to do this, we’ll revisit this topic soon."

How about picking up the phone when in doubt? It just might work ,although I suppose that making an old-fashioned phone call might be an extreme measure for social media types who prefer tweeting to talking.

But I digress.

While nothing "Janet" wrote is too over-the-top, there is no shortage of clues that something was amiss, as Shel Holtz notes:

"The ExxonMobilCorp account, though, should have raised some red flags immediately. The graphic image on the account shows service stations, an odd choice since ExxonMobil has announced its intention to sell its service stations and get out of that business altogether."

And if subtle clues like this went unnoticed and the significant number of typos and grammatical errors were written off as human error, Janet's misspelling of her company's name as "ExxonMobile" should have tipped "Janet's" hand for those who were actually paying attention and actually thinking.

As I've pointed out before in response to Nick Carr's article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?":

"It's not simply that the possibility that 'information overload' promoted by an internet that makes everything 'instantly available' will lead to a society filled with individuals incapable of focusing, concentrating and thinking deeply but that it will lead to a society that lacks all perspective and that is infinitely corruptible because the masses lack an ability to 'separate the wheat from the chaff.'"

In the case of the fake Exxon Mobil Twitter account, it's clear that a significant number of people who came across the account applied very little discretion when analyzing the information provided through it and were easily manipulated into believing that this information was coming from Exxon Mobil despite clues to the contrary.

At the end of the day, I'm of the opinion that, in many ways, the type of "brand jacking" Exxon Mobil fell victim to on Twitter has a greater impact on consumers than it does on corporations.

Consumers who exercise little discretion and do no "due diligence" on the information they come across are probably more liable to be harmed by dupes than the corporations themselves are.

In this case, the harm done to victims like Owyang consists mainly of wasted time and egg on face.

But the hordes of people who have been conned by phishing schemes and identity theft scams highlight the fact that when you don't think, you're at risk of being taken advantage of by someone who is thinking.

Drama 2.0

Published 12 August, 2008 by Drama 2.0

237 more posts from this author

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Comments (1)


Sam B

I disagree, esteemed blogger. I happen to be King Abdullah bin Abdul Acid Al Saud, and I have ordered my government to cease all dealings with Exxon, because we cannot possibly deal with a company too incompetent to monitor Twitter for uses of its name. Now maybe giant oil companies will take web 2.0 seriously.

In case you doubt that the King of Saudi Arabia reads digital marketing blogs, here's my signature to prove it: ,,~l~,ïï,o,ï,~:ï~,l.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get 80 million dollars out of the country and I want to ask Owyang if he'll give me a hand.

about 10 years ago

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