A post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.
As a free service that lets its users set up an account in just a few seconds, Twitter has made it easy for people to take advantage of its system. Plenty of tweets come from assumed aliases or posers. Why would anyone do this? And what role do fake tweets play in PR?
First, fake tweets can be really entertaining. Many of the fake Twitter aliases dispense pretty hilarious and well-thought out tweets. Everyone from Forbes to Mashable has published a list of the best fake Twitter accounts. They range from crime bosses (there are about a dozen Whitey Bulgers on Twitter and even @Catherine_Greig is tweeting now) to celebrities(@FakeJeter) and from the cast of Star Wars to memes like @FakeAPStyleBook and@shitmydadsays, which seems to have spawned @oldmansearch. Often the entertainment value is in extending the life of a popular news topic, such as the creation of@Bronxzooscobra.
Faux tweets can also help brands engage with audiences in a new way and/or add a new dimension to the brand. For example, the Mad Men TV show characters who tweet in their fictional voices would seem to be a brilliant branding move on behalf of AMC, the show’s creators, and a smart way to extend the brand and keep audiences engaged even when the season is not airing on TV. (The real story is more complicated.)
Another benign reason for skirting total transparency on Twitter is to establish and build authority. For instance, Lindsay’s Twitter handle, @PRjobs, is an easy-to-remember and authoritative name for someone whose job is recruiting PR professionals. Similar to the practice of grabbing up popular web domain names, some Twitter names become sought-after. @Massachusetts isn’t a government agency; it’s the Twitter handle for Trazzler, a travel deal site co-founded by Biz Stone, one of Twitter’s founders.
Twitter is also used strategically to influence audiences or perhaps attack an opponent. This seems to be happening more and more in politics, with opponents creating fake Twitter names to tweet offensive comments about a candidate, as was the case for California State Senator and leading candidate for mayor of San Francisco Leland Yee says the New York Times. In an unusual example of Twitter impersonation, a faux Rahm Emanuel, who presumably sought to entertain when he began tweeting under the handle @MayorEmanuelduring Emanuel’s run for mayor of Chicago, identified himself to the real Rahm Emanuel in exchange for a donation to a local charity.
In typical fashion, campaign managers and PR strategists simultaneously deny involvement with fake Twitter accounts and discount any influence the fake tweets have.
Of course the most infamous fake tweeter so far is @BPGlobalPR, which took advantage of BP’s slow reaction and lack of communication in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to generate negative attention for the BP brand. The creator of @BPGlobalPR shares his thoughts with PRSA in this interview.
Twitter doesn’t endorse phweeters (phony tweeters) or parodies but openly accepts their existence and attempts to help its users identify real versus phony accounts by verifying certain accounts and publishing these guidelines.
Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on LindsayOlson.com. You can find her at www.kprcommunications.com. Learn more about Alison Kenney.