Hacked burger tweets draw cybercrowds

"There's no such thing as bad publicity"

-- Brendan Behan

In late February, massive US fast-food chain Burger King saw their Twitter account hacked. And the regal burger-slinger gained new followers in the tens of thousands.

According to a story by IDGNS journalist Jeremy Kirk, the new BK-followers may have started following "in hopes of seeing more bizarre and profane messages." But when the firm retained control of its Twitter account, they blasted out a cheery 140-character message: "Interesting day here at Burger King, but we're back! Welcome to our new followers. Hope you all stick around!"

Hey, stick around!

Who hijacked those Whopper tweets? "It was unclear who was responsible for the hack," wrote Kirk. "Much of Twitter's business plans revolve around making its platform attractive to companies to reach out to users."

Who hacked the flame-broiler monarch? An arch-rival disclaimed any responsibility, according to Kirk: "Shortly after Burger King's account was taken over, McDonald's tweeted: We empathize with our @BurgerKing counterparts. Rest assured, we had nothing to do with the hacking'."

But of course. Let me play Devil's Advocate here. Burger King's followers, Kirk wrote, numbered around 50,000 pre-hack then shot up to over 110,000. Burger King spontaneously doubled its Twitterbase.

And you can likely guess what came next.

The double-switch

John P Mello Jr, of IDG's CSO magazine, wrote: "In an apparent move to exploit the publicity surrounding the Twitter hacks, MTV and BET, two Viacom properties, staged a bogus hack of each other's Twitter accounts. Each switched their profile photos."

That's right: MTV's Twitter account displayed BET's profile picture, while BET's displayed MTV's. The switch ended after about an hour. No stats yet on followers gained/lost from this bizarre, negligible stunt.

And the prank could backfire. "There's already chatter on the Web about hackers attacking MTV and BET for pulling the stunt," said Wilson Tang, head of digital creative for New York-based TBA Global. "They're putting a sign on their door for hackers that says, 'Come Attack Us'." Not unlikely--US car manufacturer Jeep's Twitter feed was similarly pwned in the wake of the Burger King cyber-assault.

No bad publicity

The initial hack displays a side of the Net epitomized by those residing in the "dark alleys" of the Internet: 4chan, Anonymous, LulzSec. Compromise a high-profile platform, and you can stick low-brow material on a firm's Twitter feed. It's unsavory, but the fact is that less-than-savory material attracts eyeballs-- bogus tweets of salty shenanigans caused a massive spike in Burger King Twitter followers.

But this is a false economy, and MTV/BET were wrongheaded with their switcheroo stunt. A firm's Twitter feed or Facebook presence is part of their brand-image. Making light of hacking, as Tang suggested, is a good way to draw hackers' attention.

What's important for global brands in general, and Hong Kong brands in specific, is to create sensible enterprise-class social media policies, populate them with important content only, and respond to customers' comments and complaints. This is proactive use of social media, and an important part of any customer-facing business. Silly stunts and sloppy security are as unwelcome here as any place in the enterprise.

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Tags Internet-based applications and servicesBurger Kingintrusionsecuritysocial mediainternet

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