This may be one of the best Twitter public relations stunts yet: a suburban Detroit PR firm has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court to compel the social networking site Twitter to reveal who was behind a Twitter account which allegedly defamed the PR firm.
According to Don Tanner at Tanner Friedman, in early 2009, someone established a Twitter account using the firm’s name and represented themselves as someone speaking for the Farmington Hills, Mich.-based agency. The messages posted on Twitter, known as “tweets”, made “false and defamatory statements” about the firm according to the suit.
In other words, the firm was brandjacked on Twitter. Setting aside the question why someone would hire a PR firm who would have let this happen to themselves, I find it a compelling story, but one that doesn’t pass the smell test in my personal view.
Twitter has a very clearly spelled out policy on parody accounts and impersonation. If someone on Twitter is representing themselves as you or your business, all you need to do is contact Twitter using these procedures posted on the site. (Tanner Friedman has acknowledged that when it contacted Twitter asking for the material to be removed from its site, Twitter complied. Their complaint is that Twitter will not disclose records of who established the impostor account.)
What the public relations firm fails to realize is that it’s up to them to protect their trademarks and intellectual property. (That’s not Twitter’s job.)
That said, I think that filing the lawsuit may hasten Twitter’s efforts to formally launch its “verified account” program, which came after the St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa sued Twitter after someone established an account in La Russa’s name and used his image in a fake Twitter feed pretending to be La Russa. Though La Russa’s attorney announced that Twitter had settled the case, Twitter disputed that claim in a subsequent blog post.
Perhaps filing a lawsuit is part of Tanner Friedman’s crisis communications strategy, I don’t know. But I honestly see this suit, and the firm’s blog posts on the topic, as nothing more than a publicity stunt which seems to be backfiring. In my personal view, this effort draws attention the fact that the firm did a very poor job of protecting its own brand. (As someone who hires public relations firms, I have to ask if you can’t protect your own brand, why should I trust you to protect my business’s brands?)
The firm’s principals disagree with me. They believe they are standing up for, well — principles. Don Tanner wrote on his firm’s blog on June 8 that:
We are quite hopeful that, in the end, this exercise will set a precedent and serve as a deterrent against such individuals (those with no respect for media nor truthful, honest communications) doing this to others in the future. This person thought they could hide behind the anonymity that a computer screen often provides. They were mistaken.
I don’t buy it. If you’re in the public relations business, you need to know more about social media than they apparently do. (Why they would want to draw attention to they own shortcomings is not entirely clear. I don’t know what the fake tweets said about Tanner Friedman, but I can’t imagine they reached very many people. The same cannot be said about the news surrounding their lawsuit seeking Twitter’s records.)