When Your Social Media Representation Isn't Actually Yours

from the who's-speaking-for-whom? dept

It's been quite interesting over the past few months watching various companies make use of social media tools like Twitter to better communicate with customers or other constituents. Comcast has probably received the most attention, but some other companies have done some interesting things as well. Still, the world was fairly surprised last week when it appeared that oil giant Exxon Mobil was joining in on the fun. A Twitter account appeared that claimed to be a representative, Janet, from Exxon Mobil, and was linking to various stories of interest and responding to questions from the crowd. It appears that Janet wasn't bad at representing Exxon Mobil's views, but it turns out there was just a tiny problem: Exxon Mobil has no clue who she is and says she most certainly is not a representative of the company.

It's not entirely clear who the person actually is or what s/he was trying to accomplish, but it does work to remind people that you shouldn't believe everything you see online -- even if it "feels" true. However, it does raise some other questions about the nature of an "official" spokesperson vs. amateur spokespeople. Whoever "Janet" is, "she" was apparently doing a pretty good job representing the interests of Exxon Mobil. Yes, that could change in an instant, or she could (and may have) misstated an Exxon Mobil position, but in an age where consumers speak up all the time against companies, it's quite interesting to see one effectively standing up for a company as well. That doesn't mean it's good to see someone representing your brand falsely (that's what we call "fraud"), but it does raise questions about "deputizing" amateurs to represent you in situations where it's clear (unlike in this situation) they're not official representatives, but amateurs who support what you do.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Truthbringer, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 6:42am

    Smells of lobbyist . . .

    This is the best kind of lobbyist for a corporation or industry group, the kind that comes with deniability.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    eleete, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 7:09am

    No Clue

    "Exxon Mobil has no clue who she is and says she most certainly is not a representative of the company." How do you have no clue who a person is, and claim they are not a representative. If you don't know who she is, the statement stops there. Could be the guys wife for all he knows. If it's done anonymously, then it's just that. Very well could be a higher up with the company, as easily as it could be an amateur.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Matt, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 7:31am

    Re: Smells of lobbyist . . .no, reeks

    exactly. This is 100% a exxon person because if a regular old person created a twitter as a company, they would have sued/forcefully taken the account over/wouldn't have "Accidentally" put that information out to the media to be covered on websites.

    Sounds like exxon has someone pretty smart playing a little bit of PR....can't wait to see the backfire though.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Paul, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 8:26am

    Re: No Clue

    Way to stretch it. By your argument, anybody can claim to be an official representative of a company and as long as they stay anonymous, the company can't say "no, they're not. We can't prove they're not a representative 'cause we don't know who they are."

    That's gotta be the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Paul, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 8:29am

    Re: Re: Smells of lobbyist . . .no, reeks

    Not necessarily. Big Oil is obviously not really everybody's favorite these days. If somebody starts standing up for them, they can get *free* PR. They won't tear it down until they need to. Not all unsolicited PR is a bad thing. They obviously went out of their way to make a statement claiming she's *not* an official representative at all and they have no clue who she is, but why stop all the positive effect she may be having? We're always clamoring about how legal hounds destroy great marketing being done by fans, why are we all of the sudden saying that can't be the case here?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Paul, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 8:33am

    the one problem with this idea...

    There is an inherent problem with the 'deputizing' idea. You need to make sure that the person is always on the same page as you. You obviously wouldn't want to be deputizing somebody who may disagree with you later on once they get a following do to their somewhat unofficial official status. Also, you gotta make sure they keep up with company policy as well. When the company changes direction, they need to know quickly. So, now, the company not only needs to ensure they keep in good faith to the company, but company also has to go out of their way to provide information to them. In effect, they would most likely sign a contract and then also either create a new department for dealing with these guys OR give somebody else the workload of having to keep these people informed. So, at the least, you're creating an employee who's not getting paid, and at most, you're creating a new employee who will get paid. But in the end, you're just getting another employee.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    wasnt me!, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 8:47am

    im with Truthbringer on this one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Frymaster, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 10:10am

    A 3rd Possibility

    Gotta say, I don't like either the lobbyist theory or the amateur theory.

    Lobbyists aren't getting nearly enough bang for their buck in this because it only lasts a couple of day and now the network is "burned down" as Bill Burroughs would say. So if it is a soft PR campaign, it's self-defeating in that its presence brings immediate scrutiny and immediate denial.

    And, honestly, an amateur, like some regular person who just LOVES EM so much s/he spends the time to learn all the positions and find all the discussions and so forth. Implausible in the extreme. EM's got, like, 6 fans worldwide, so it's a short list.

    Most likely scenario, IMO, is the mid-level employee. Maybe in the PR/MKT area or maybe just wants to get into that area. Either way, s/he went off the reservation and tried to get something going that the company would eventually recognize and embrace. It's a story you hear with some frequency in the Enterprise 2.0 space. But this employee must not have known s/he was working for Evil Incarnate, Inc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Jitendra, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 11:31am

    Anonymity is bad for communities


    Jitendra from SezWho here.

    Good post that raises an important conversation about how we can trust the socially generated content when there can be vested interests.

    I think anonymity is a problem that causes a lot of social generated content to go to waste while encouraging boorish behavior.

    Most of the people would be very comfortable saying what they have to say, without needing any anonymity but the default of anonymity in the social web really discourages real conversation.

    Of course there are times where anonymity is useful even necessary to carry on a conversation but those situation are few and far too uncommon.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Ima Fish, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 12:34pm

    Re: Re: No Clue

    "That's gotta be the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."

    I think you misunderstand Eleete's point.

    In my reading of his comment, he was merely pointing out a contradiction in Exxon's statement. Exxon first stated that they have "no clue who she is." But yet they followed that with the conclusion that whoever it is, she is "most certainly not a representative of the company."

    I totally agree with Eleete, how can Exxon say she is not a representative without first knowing who she is?

    I think Exxon's statement is really, "We don't have a clue who she is, but we certainly hope she's not a representative of this company."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Ima Fish, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 12:39pm

    Re: A 3rd Possibility

    "Most likely scenario, IMO, is the mid-level employee."

    I agree. The most likely scenario is an employee. Either one who is over-eager and is hoping to jump start her career by being proactive. Or an employee who did it with the permission of her department, without informing the main office of her activities.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Dirk Singer, Aug 4th, 2008 @ 2:38pm

    Plenty of others run the same risk of brand jacking

    We posted a follow up to this story today - over 2/3 of major brands are at a similar risk of being brand jacked due to leaving their IDs vacant:


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Say What, Aug 26th, 2008 @ 1:48pm

    Is it fraud?

    Is it really fraud? Afterall Twitter is just a online virtual game (isn't it?) and I can be anyone I want to be in an online vitual game!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    دردشة, Jul 11th, 2009 @ 9:26am

    We posted a follow up to this story today

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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