The dangers of parody Twitter accounts to brand reputation

While on one side a business can’t really claim to have made it unless someone out there has created a gag Twitter account to poke fun at said named company, there is a danger that these channels can do serious damage to a brand.

When I was sent a submission by one of our columnists last week I thought we’d struck gold. Centred around International Women’s Day, the piece had picked up on a tweet written by everybody’d favourite pub chain – J.D. Wetherspoon.

As many tried to do on the awareness day, J.D. Wetherspoon piggybacked on it and came up with this message: “As it is #InternationalWomensDay we will be paying them the same hourly rate as their male counterparts for every hour worked today.”

As a normal upstanding member of society, and then journalist, derision soon turned to a desire to publicise the sexist and bigoted remarks of such a big corporation – this is going to get us loads of readers, I thought.

Alas no, it wasn’t to be so sweet. A trip to the official J.D. Wetherspoon Twitter page showed no such tweet, and it was only through searching for a few keywords in the message that I discovered the tweet had come from a parody account. Damn.

Spouting nonsense from the handle @wetherspoonuk, the account’s “about me” section read: “Cheap booze, cheap food n cheaper decor! Where good nights start. Hit the good pubs already drunk for a Score! Parody, not JDWetherspoon 18+.”

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Social media is a great democratiser, it allows anyone to have a voice and there isn’t much you can’t get away with saying – as long as it’s not threatening or outing “paedophiles”. There is even one gently mocking our Queen, whose message on 27 February read: “Hey. One just met you. And this is crazy. But here’s one’s number. So call one, maybe?”

According to official Twitter policy, users are allowed to create parody accounts provided a few requirements are met. First up, they have to acknowledge in the bio that the user is not affiliated with the account subject by using any one of “parody”, “fake”, “fan” or “commentary”. Additionally, the name should not be the exact name of the account subject without some other distinguishing word, such as “not,” “fake,” or “fan,” and be done so in a way that would be understood by the intended audience.

Twitter states that it will review an account under its parody policy in response to an impersonation or trademark complaint. An account that complies with its parody policy may not be found to be violating its trademark or impersonation policies. But it seems the only time a brand or individual has a case is if an account is attempting to impersonate. In fact, the aforementioned @wetherspoonuk account actually has the world “official” in its profile picture – how can it be getting away with that?

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While it is good for big brands, and well-known individuals, that Twitter requires some identifying words to be used on parody accounts, it doesn’t solve the entire issue of brand damage. For most Twitter users, their exposure to tweets comes through the home screen when individual messages are displayed without a bio visible.

It is here that you can quickly glance at a tweet and think it’s genuine. From there, word of mouth can see something travel like wildfire – without anyone actually checking if it came from the genuine source.

Twitter created its blue verified tick badge to identify the accounts it had deemed were the genuine one for a well-known business or personality, but even the official J.D. Wetherspoon page doesn’t have one – so how do you know which source to trust? The parody account went one further to celebrate what it had done for International Women’s Day by tweeting:

If you don’t yet have that coveted blue badge, Twitter recommends linking to your official website in the bio section. As you’re not able to actually request verification, that’s about as good as it’s going to get before the social media platform contacts you to check.

Advice to businesses from Twitter when it comes to impersonation or misuse of a trademarked brand is short and “tweet” in its support section. “Companies and businesses should report accounts misusing their trademarks or brand by filing a complaint under our trademark policy. Please review the trademark policy page, as there is specific information we will need to process your claim.”

The communication and marketing part of a business needs to pay close attention to whatever parody accounts may be out there. As the old saying goes, keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

In the meantime, have some fun and check out some of the best parody accounts out there – like @BoredElonMusk, @notzuckerberg, and @DeludedBrendan.

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About Author

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven is the editor of Real Business. He is also the editor of Business Advice, a title focused solely on a section of the business community currently underserved – micro companies. Alongside this, he is part of the team that hosts the Growing Business Awards, First Women Awards and Future 50 initiative.

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