One of the best ways an online brand can create a buzz around its products or services in the digital age is to take its social media handles to new levels. Social media account theft by celebrities, personalities, or influencers are becoming increasingly popular, whereby the individual involved submits multiple posts or updates under a brand’s username.
It’s a new element of cross-promotion for digital brands that can open their doors to new demographics. The allure of celebrities, personalities, and social influencers cannot be overstated, with their own followers typically accepting their recommendations as gospel. It’s even better if the personality in question is related to the industry in which a particular brand operates. But even if that’s not possible, these account hijacks can create a sense of immediacy that results in an instant reaction from consumers, be it shared or retweeted posts or going one further and conversing with the brands themselves.
Instagram and Twitter are considered the most effective social media platforms for taking over an account and social marketing in general. First and foremost, Instagram works due to its visual nature, with celebrities or influencers capable of offering a new perspective of a brand that also acts as an eye-opener to prospective customers. Meanwhile, the immediacy of Twitter’s real-time tweets is equally effective for fostering immediate and direct engagement.
Of course, there are some celebrity hijacks of social accounts that have had unprecedented success and there are others that have had the polar opposite impact the brands wanted from their account takeovers due to inappropriate or even fraudulent activity. If you’re new to the concept, a social account takeover can be considered fraudulent for multiple reasons. It may be conducted to obtain sensitive personal or business data; it may be to secure access to money, or it may be used as a platform to defraud the trusted contacts of the account in question.
On the other hand, an account takeover can gain more exposure to your brand in a fun and innovative way. So, if you’re still sitting on the fence about whether a social account takeover could be fruitful for your brand, read on to discover the best and the worst examples in recent memory:
Travel + Leisure is one of the most popular travel magazines in the US. This monthly magazine is produced in New York City, rivaling the likes of Conde Nast Traveller as the oracle for travel tips and inspiration. With a readership of 4.8 million, the magazine sought to provide inspiration for readers thinking of visiting Italy with an Instagram Stories takeover from Italian executive chef, Silvia Grossi. She is one of the masters in traditional Tuscan cooking and her takeover enabled her to share the recipe of an easy yet mouth-watering home-cooked Italian dish. It was the ideal segue to the magazine’s Italy-focused features.
Retta, 52, a stand-up comedian and actress, has little in common with the LA Kings hockey team on the surface. Recognized for her role as Donna Meagle in the hit NBC series Parks and Recreation, Retta has become a pop culture icon. The LA Kings’ social admin team tweeted her asking if they could “persuade” her to visit a Kings game and “live tweet it”. Retta said that although she knew nothing about the sport, she would be happy to “talk about who was cute on the sideline”.
Retta’s live-tweet takeover didn’t assume the conventional conventions of a celebrity hijack, as she still used her own Twitter account. Nevertheless, using cleverly constructed hashtags and mentions of the LA Kings’ Twitter account, she was able to leverage her own follower base to showcase the excitement of Kings games to those who may never have visited the Crypto.com Arena before.
Perhaps one of the most awkward social account hijacks surrounding British music brand HMV. It was also one of the earliest examples of an account takeover that threatened to damage a brand rather than enhance it. In April 2013, the company was in administration and dozens of loyal, long-serving employees were at risk of being laid off.
Ahead of being given the bad news, said employees managed to gain access to HMV’s official Twitter account, from which the employees were able to live-tweet their redundancies via administrators Deloitte. Using the hashtag #hmvXFactorFiring, the takeover captured the imagination of the music and entertainment industries, particularly as the HMV Twitter handle had not been active since mid-January.
The most damning of all their tweets related to the team’s marketing director who was overheard by the employees asking “how do I shut down Twitter?” This uncomfortable exposure of HMV’s demise occurred as the doomed employees were left with “no other choice” but to shine a spotlight on the issue, given that the majority being made redundant had “wanted to make HMV great again”.
The worst-case scenario for any digital brand is to unwittingly have their social accounts taken over in a flagrant security breach. In February 2020, a group of cyber-hackers known as ‘OurMine’ temporarily took Facebook’s social media handles on Twitter and Instagram over.
The organization posted that “even Facebook is hackable” before adding that their security levels were “better than Twitter”. The group is said to exist to expose cyber vulnerabilities on online platforms. The month before its mighty takedown of Facebook, OurMine conducted fraudulent account takeovers of no less than ten handles of official NFL franchises. Account takeover fraud appears to be happening more frequently, which is hampering the reputability of the positive account seizures that are designed to offer mutual benefit to brands and influencers or celebrities alike.
Some fraudulent account seizures occur rather opportunistically. A cyber-criminal may literally stumble across the login details of a social account or they may have obtained a mass database of login details via a widespread phishing campaign or malware. The concern for established brands is that their data is increasingly being sold on the cheap on the so-called “Dark Web” to fellow cyber-hackers, which leaves them open to multiple breaches without adequate protections in place to uncover suspected fraudsters.
Instead of employing white-hat hackers to work in-house to weed out potential securities flaws and vulnerabilities, many businesses are now investing in fraud detection software to prevent unwanted account hijacking. This software can log and analyze user behavior and enable legitimate, authentic users to continue in as frictionless a way as possible – particularly those working remotely via external IP addresses.