What you can learn from Chevron’s brandjacking

You can take steps to head off such online onslaughts, but sometimes they happen anyway. Try these tactics when the slings and arrows are headed your way.

In the past, hashtags like #AskJPM and #myNYPD have been set up by companies and organizations—J.P. Morgan and the New York Police Department in these cases—looking to engage their audiences.

Both times, the “brands” behind the hashtags were looking for responses and to get conversations started in an innocent, positive way. They were looking for interaction and engagement. However, in both situations, the results fell short as the potentially positive efforts were hijacked by those with negative intentions.

This week, it looked as though Chevron—a global oil and gas company—was heading down a similar path to disaster when #AskChevron started trending on Twitter. The tweets were less than flattering:

Here’s the kicker: Chevron had nothing to do with the hashtag. Instead, it’s a classic case of brandjacking. @thetoxiceffect, an environmental group out of Ecuador who regularly cracks down on big oil and gas companies, is behind the campaign.

Chevron is probably working hard behind the scenes to come up with a response to this PR nightmare.

The bottom line? Brandjacking can happen, even with no participation by the brand being hijacked.

How to avoid it

As demonstrated by this case, in many situations there’s nothing a brand can do to eliminate the chance of being brandjacked. However, there are a few steps to minimize the possibility.

Don’t leave yourself open. Unlike Chevron, the J.P. Morgan and NYPD examples show that sometimes it’s better to not invite controversy. If your brand regularly comes under fire, avoiding open forum conversations is probably the best route.

Build positive social media presences. By taking the time to regularly engage your target market on social media, to respond to critics and to build a positive image, you’re less likely to come under attack. Make social media a priority in your PR and branding strategies and focus on positivity and honesty.

How to use it to your advantage

Sometimes publicity—even negative publicity—can go a long way toward building your brand’s image. If a hijacking takes place, even if you have nothing to do with it, take the steps below to use the situation to your advantage.

Respond. Sitting back and letting the attack continue might not be the best course of action. Instead, jump into the conversation, respond to questions, and start an open forum. It might turn the situation around while giving your brand leverage.

Make it fun. This option requires some delicacy. Depending on the subject matter that has overrun your social media feeds, there may be room to poke fun at it. Turning environmental disasters into a joke may not be the best course of action, but if there’s a viable opportunity to lighten the mood, take it.

Turn it into a learning opportunity. Sometimes the worst cases of follower displeasure can be traced to ignorance. Yes, Chevron has been involved in an environmental disaster or two, which prompted this assault. However, some of the negativity could be alleviated by giving followers and commentators an opportunity to learn about oil scams and or other helpful information related to Chevron’s industry.

Brandjacking happens—sometimes based on steps taken by a given brand, other times with no warning whatsoever. However, steps can and should be taken to lessen the odds of such a situation arising, and an action plan should be in place to respond should your brand fall under fire.

Kayla Matthews is a business solutions blogger. You can check out all of her latest posts by following her on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter.

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