What to do about “Brandjacking” on Instagram
Companies are increasingly tapping on Instagram to promote their brands and generate conversations with customers but, with brandjacking on the rise, these companies might be getting more than what they’ve bargained for.
If this is the first time you’re hearing about brandjacking: this refers to the act of purposefully taking on the identity of various brands to exploit or undermine these. As you might imagine, companies who fall prey to brandjacking incidents often experience devastating consequences, including taking a huge hit to their brands’ reputation.
In this blog post, we discuss how brandjacking works and walk you through what communication pros can do to protect your organisation, product and brand against brandjacking. Read on to find out more!
How common is brandjacking?
According to social media security firm ZeroFOX’s report, the number of fake social media profiles created specifically for fraudulent purposes increased by a whopping 1,100% from 2014 to 2016. While a great deal of these fake profiles is created to impersonate celebrities, there’s a growing trend of bad actors who are masquerading themselves as brands also.
More specifically: after ZeroFOX analysed 40,000 fake profiles over a period of two years, the firm found that approximately half of the scammers impersonated a brand to carry out “angler phishing”. Here’s how it works: scammers pretend to be acting on behalf of brands and contact customers and invite them to participate in bogus giveaways or gift them with fake coupons. In doing so, scammers trick customers into sharing personal details including their name, address, phone number and other account information. These scammers then go on to steal the customers’ identities and financial information.
Brandjacking: How does it impact brands?
The impact that a brandjacking incident has on a brand depends on the intent behind it.
If a company is brandjacked by a competitor who wants to capitalise upon said company’s spotlight, then there is most likely no real harm done. Yes, it might be frustrating that another firm is essentially “piggybacking” on the attention that this company is generating, but that’s typically it.
If a company is brandjacked by an organisation or an individual who’s calling out the brand for example for their unethical corporate practices, however, then this will definitely affect said company’s reputation. Here, it’s important for the company to do damage control; they might choose to apologise (if they’re in the wrong) or set the record straight.
Finally, if a company is brandjacked by scammers hoping to prey on unsuspecting consumers, then the brand can expect to see customer confidence plummeting. While the brand isn’t necessarily the one at fault in this situation, its customers will definitely have their confidence in the brand shaken.
Examples of brandjacking
In recent years, a growing number of companies and celebrities have had to deal with brandjacking from fans or haters to competitors and consumers alike. Here are a few examples:
The country music singer and songwriter Kip Moore is just one example of celebrities who have become victims of brandjacking. Not long ago, research showed that 28 accounts were impersonating him on Facebook and 61 on Instagram. On top of this, many of these fake accounts sent inappropriate messages to his fans.
Last year, the New York Times commissioned an analysis across various social media platforms to count how many impersonators exist out there for the 10 most followed people on Instagram. The analysis – conducted by Social Impostor – a firm that protects celebrities’ names online – found around 9,000 fake accounts across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pretending to be those 10 people.
Greenpeace brandjacking Lego
One instance of activist brandjacking is when non-governmental environmental organisation Greenpeace released a video to brandjack Danish toy production company Lego. In this video, Greenpeace pointed out that Lego created products that promoted Shell, an oil company that was known for its questionable business practices. In response to this, Lego cut off ties with Shell and reiterated its commitment to doing business the “right way”.
Unknown person brandjacking BP
During the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the fake BP Twitter account @BPglobalPR mocked BP with a tweet that said: “The ocean looks just a bit slimmer today. Dressing it in black really did the trick! #bpcares”.
At one point, the bogus account actually attracted more followers than the real one. BP was already facing a PR crisis back then and the tweets from @BPglobalPR only served to drag its name through the mud even further. “While BP was dealing with this disastrous crisis, this act of brand impersonation did add oil to the fire burning BP’s reputation,” says Jenny Wolfram, Founder and CEO of BrandBastion.
Competitors brandjacking Apple
Another now classic example of competitor-based brandjacking comes from Apple. During their iPad Air launch, competitors such as Microsoft or Samsung purchased keywords related to the launch, hoping they could take away the attention from Apple and instead create attention for their own brands.
— Windows (@Windows) 22. Oktober 2013
Can communicators prevent brandjacking?
As a communicator, you can most definitely defend your brand against brandjacking. Effective techniques include:
- Establishing an official account on Instagram and other social media sites. Use the same username throughout if possible;
- Obtaining verified badges on Instagram and other social media sites;
- Linking to Instagram and other social media profiles via your brand’s main website;
- Use two-factor authentication when logging into social media accounts.
Best practices: how to manage brandjacking
While you can make it difficult for imposters to create fake accounts of your brand, it’s impossible to completely eliminate the risk of getting brandjacked. Bearing this in mind, you’ll want to come up with a strategy that will allow you to monitor the social media landscape and be notified of brandjacking incidents (if any) as quickly as possible.
To do this, consider working with IntSights and similar firms who monitor social media specifically for the purpose of identifying potential imposters and brandjackers. If your company name is ABC Agency, for instance, IntSights might alert you of accounts with similar names (ABC Agency Pte Ltd, ABC Agency Global, Official ABC Agency) that pop up.
On top of that, you can also utilise social media listening tools, such as Ubermetrics, to look out for mentions of your brand name. This way, if someone is posting in your name (and mentioning your brand in the process), you’ll be alerted to such posts immediately.
What to do when you realise you’ve been brandjacked
What happens when you’ve been brandjacked? First, report the bogus account to the relevant social media platform and enlist the platform’s help in removing the account. Assuming you’re operating a verified account, this should be fairly easy.
On top of that, you might also want to file a trademark or copyright violation claim against the imposter. If this person has used your product images or other content, they’re essentially violating copyright. If they haven’t stolen your content, but they’re using your name or logo to impersonate you, you’re dealing with a trademark violation claim instead.
Finally, post on your company’s social media to inform your followers of the imposter account(s). You probably wouldn’t want to link to the account directly (seeing as this will only drive more traffic to them), but you do want to remind your consumers to be wary of such accounts.
A final word on brandjacking
Getting brandjacked is no laughing matter and this can potentially wreak havoc on a brand and its reputation. On the bright side, though, there are measures that you can put into place to ensure that your company is at lower risk of getting brandjacked. At the same time, it’s important to have an action plan in place, so that you know exactly what to do in the unfortunate event that you are brandjacked.