Why hackers are winning the battle against brands

Two of the unintended consequences of the digital age are the fact that social media companies know everything about you (something we increasingly accept as the way of the world, gloomily) and the other is that such tech companies’ systems seem to be increasingly easy to hack into.

The latest victim is Apple, for decades supposed to be immune to such depredations.

Apple announced yesterday, through clenched teeth, that its internal Mac systems had been hacked by the same attackers that targeted Facebook and Twitter earlier in February. Opinions vary as to who exactly is responsible, one theory being, bizarrely, that it’s the Chinese army intent on nicking information for the benefit of Chinese companies (and, presumably, itself).

A few days ago Burger King’s Twitter account was hacked, very embarrassingly. The hackers, believed to be from ‘hacktivist’ group Anonymous rather than the Chinese military, made it look as though the company was actually McDonald’s.

And now the jokers are telling us that Jeep has been sold to Cadillac.

Which poses a problem for such brands, ones which are bound to be controversial by their very nature. Is the game worth the candle? Do the benefits of using Twitter and Facebook outweigh the risks and, if so, how should the accounts be managed?

So we asked John Monks (left), head of social business design at digital agency LBi, what he thought.

1/ Is social media actually appropriate for every brand?

Probably, yes. There is something that will benefit most brands in the huge and diverse world of social. Some might have to be more creative than others to find it though. Public conversations in the character of the brand are probably not appropriate for all – the fact that Burger King’s follower count increased by 32 per cent in half an hour suggests that very little it had said previously was particularly interesting. That isn’t to say that social networks aren’t appropriate for Burger King, just that they hadn’t worked out the best way to use Twitter at scale.

2/ If the brand is likely to be contentious with some (as burgers are) does that require a more disciplined approach?

Definitely. Generally brands operating in regulated categories like HFSS (high in fat, salt and sugar), pharmaceuticals, finance or gambling need to be more creative in their use of Twitter, more disciplined in their approach to customer service in public, and more integrated in their approval and sign-off process. It comes down to the value that a brand is getting back from a particular platform – is social customer service actually reducing call centre costs?

Are special offers distributed over Twitter actually growing share, or are they just discounting to people who would have bought anyway? Is Twitter a means to generate wider PR, as in the staged amplification approach that brands like Southwest Air use?

3/ Do clever agencies like LBi have hacker defences?

The main issue with security on third party sites is that it depends on humans. Sites should have long and complex passwords, but these are difficult to remember, so people write them down (on Post-it notes, for instance), thus undermining their security.

So it looks like the answer to the last question is ‘No’ and that’s the technical problem anyway.

What also seems inescapable is that brands like Burger King are using Twitter, in particular, just because it’s there. Which is a problem for them and, indeed, Twitter.

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