Pretty easily, it appears.  A new social media tool is making it easier than ever, allowing users to create a simulated screenshot of a Tweet.  A screenshot of a Tweet from any Twitter account, complete with images, background, and time and date stamps.  The tool even goes so far as to allow users to alter the retweet and share count on the image.

Back in the good old days, you actually had to hack a brand’s Twitter account in order to send a message from them.  Not anymore!

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[Disclaimer: As much as Oprah probably adores Trackur, this message did NOT come from her Twitter account. This is simply an example of how easy it is to create an “official” screenshot of a fake Tweet. The creator of this Tweet has little to no technical design skill, and spent less than one minute creating this.]

Used with good intentions, this could be a fun tool to create cute messages.  Used in the wrong hands? This could be detrimental to the reputations of businesses and individuals alike.  We all know how quickly messages can go viral online, and how rarely facts are substantiated before messages are shared.  What if a popular hotel chain appeared to put out a message that they thought poorly a certain racial group?  Or that their property had burned to the ground and all reservations were canceled?  What if a popular restaurant stated that they supported the use of horse meat in their burgers?  Or that they were endorsing a hate group?  The opportunities for reputation damage are endless here, especially with how difficult it can be to determine if a Tweet is faked, or if it really was published and then later deleted.  There have been many instances of brands publishing things they shouldn’t, so how hard would it be to believe a seemingly unbelievable message?  Even if people doubt the validity of an outrageous Tweet, they’re not likely to soon forget it.  And remembering is a best case scenario.  Worst case, businesses will lose customers, profits, and possibly even see a dramatic plunge in share prices.

Carrie Hill, the Director of Online Marketing Services over at KeyRelevance, LLC first clued us in to the existence of this tool. With our mutual history in the hospitality market, we both immediately thought of the dangers to vacation destinations and lodging properties while we were chatting about how scary this could be for businesses.  Here’s what she had to say:

The fact that someone built this tool doesn’t necessarily surprise us – it really was only a matter of time.  The fact that it can potentially have a huge impact on a business and it’s online reputation is truly terrifying.  The internet is rife with unsubstantiated rumor – and many facts are NEVER checked before they’re shared – making the reality of a fake tweet going viral very real.  We hope this site, and any like it, have short shelf lives.  Making sure you’re on top of your company’s online reputation is going to be the ONLY defense you have against something like this.

Unfortunately, until Twitter decides to copyright or trademark their interface, there is very little recourse for an individual or business who’s information is misrepresented.  So what happens if someone abuses your or your company’s likeness for their gain (or your loss)?  There are a few things you can do:

  1. First and foremost, behave in such a way that if something hateful or untrue is published with your profile image next to it, no one will believe it is true. While having a stellar reputation doesn’t make you immune to an attack, it does minimize the initial amount of damage. If people have a hard time believing your business would say something that they’re seeing, they are less likely to share it.
  2. Monitor your reputation.  If something gets out, you want to find out about it and address the situation as quickly as possible.
  3. Do not ignore a problem.  Get out there, acknowledge the damaging information immediately, and let your community know that it is not true.
  4. Apologize for any hurt caused.  Let your audience know that while you do not believe in or agree with the statement made, you do apologize for any inconvenience or damage it caused to your community.
  5. Be available.  Offer to answer questions, make a statement, or whatever your audience needs from you to believe that the information put out there was false.

There are many instances throughout history where companies have been misrepresented.  This is not the first, and it certainly won’t be the last.  What is so alarming, however, is how quickly information can be altered and transmitted these days.  Ensuring that what people are saying about your company is true, and correcting any incorrect information, is critical in maintaining a great reputation online.

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