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Burger King twitter account hacked: Social media implications for the brand?

On February 19th, 2013, Burger King’s Twitter account was hacked. By hacked, we mean totally overhauled to look like a McDonald’s Twitter account, and offensive and indiscernible tweets sent out. The contravention lasted about three hours, until Twitter suspended the account. Burger King sent out the following press release, in regards to the situation:

We have worked directly with administrators to suspend the account until we are able to re-establish our legitimate site and authentic postings. We apologize to our fans and followers who have been receiving erroneous tweets about other members of our industry and additional inappropriate topics.”

Even McDonalds empathized with Burger King, tweeting “Rest assured, we had nothing to do with the hacking”.

So what are the implications for the brand?

The results are invaluable. According to Social Media Today, the burger giant received over $900.000 of free publicity. That value is derived from an approximate cost of a daily trending topic on Twitter: $200,000, promoted tweets: $0.50-$1.50 per click, promoted Twitter account $0.50-$2.50 per follower gained (Burger King gained 30,000). Value of press generated from the whole ordeal? Priceless. Million dollar campaigns often don’t achieve the results that Burger King gained from their ‘social media nightmare’. However, the consequences could have been far worse. Is any exposure good exposure? The HR department, PR reps and account managers will tell you no. A social media consultant for Wendy’s tweeted during the Burger King fiasco:

My real life nightmare is being played out over @BurgerKing”. The implications could have been severe.”

  • Although Burger King’s incident was clearly a hack job, the implications could have been severe. Brand image could have been seriously tarnished, and the company could have lost customers, shareholders etc. A lesson to social media account managers: change passwords regularly and have a social media policy, or procedure in place to tackle a potential breach like this one.
  • Remember that social media is an important communication channel – include it in the crisis plan. At the beginning of February, Twitter announced that over 250,000 accounts were compromised when hackers gained access to email address and encrypted passwords. Policies should be in place to ensure security and privacy, and avoid crises. Firstly, make sure it’s in the budget. Secondly, establish a chain of command so when the crisis strikes, you’re ready.
  • It’s not only social media that can be targeted. The Wall Street Journal and NY Times reported breaches in their systems. Brand security has become a huge liability for companies like Burger King, and with the ease of sharing online, it’s easy for brand image to be tainted by consumers, most obviously hackers.
  • If you find yourself in a social media meltdown, react fast. The response could make all the difference. Burger King responded quickly, once their account was back up, tweeting “Interesting day here at Burger King, but we’re back! Welcome to our new followers, we hope you’ll stick around”…and they did. 30,000 of them.

For Burger King, the Twitter crisis may have provided them with free publicity but for Burger King’s social media account management team, it was a close call. Having a procedure in place, and accepting the possibility of a breach of security is a good starting point.

About The Author
Meghan Tooley is a commerce student and active online blogger from Winnipeg, Manitoba. She often offers her views on social media surrounding human resource development, as it relates to industry trends. She writes on behalf of Metric Marketing, a social media marketing and online marketing firm also based in Winnipeg.

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