Saturday, 18 May 2013


Recently, a trend has risen from the depths of the Twitterverse, a double bluff born of genuine PR crisis turned triumph –I’m talking about the staged hack.

Hackers are rapidly becoming the pirates of social media, with groups like Anonymous using the power of the internet to humiliate major brands. Sometimes it’s innocuous; a hacker that infiltrated @SkyNews issued only one tweet - ‘Colin was here’.   Burger King, however, suffered complete humiliation when Anonymous commandeered their account, and used it to promote McDonalds produce. 

Social media managers and PR teams have nightmares like the Burger King crisis, and yet, when all was finished, and BK were once more in control of their account, they found themselves with 30,000 new followers. What seemed like a marketing disaster became a coup; they’d followed for the entertainment, but remained as a potential consumer audience.

Whilst Burger King rejoiced that the adage ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ occasionally works, others wondered whether a hack could be good for business, and how effective it would be as a publicity stunt.
MTV, once a bastion of cool, now more of a relic, decided to stage a fake hack, hoping to garner media attention and followers a la Burger King. Unsurprisingly, it backfired massively. Not only was the hack unconvincing, according to several commentators, it was unethical. The glorification of what is essentially a criminal act left many angry, and MTV gained no more followers.

Other brands have followed suit with varying success, and the genuine hacks have continued – if at a lower level. It seems that the fake hack, though a publicity winner, is damaging to the credibility and reputation of a brand. If MTV et al are wise they’ll stay away, it’s questionable morally, and risky at best - nobody likes a hack.