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Exxon Mobil unwittingly appears on Twitter

By Heather Havenstein
August 11, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - This version of the story originally appeared in Computerworld's print edition.

Claiming to be an Exxon Mobil Corp. employee, a user of the Twitter microblogging site created a page on July 28 with the company's name, part of its logo and photos of an Exxon gas station. As of last week, more than 400 other users had signed up to receive the messages being posted by "Janet at ExxonMobil."

But Exxon Mobil said that it hadn't authorized the activities on Twitter and doesn't know who Janet is or if she or he really does work at the company.

Whoever is posting the messages "is not an authorized person to speak on behalf of the company," said Exxon Mobil spokesman Alan Jeffers. He added that Exxon Mobil hasn't officially started using any social networking sites to communicate with customers.

Jeffers said that after becoming aware of the page created by Janet, Exxon Mobil contacted officials at Twitter Inc. and asked them to reserve for the company's use any potential account names associated with its various business brands. The Twitter execs agreed to do so, according to Jeffers.

As of Friday, the unauthorized page was still live, and Janet had begun posting new messages, after a two-day absence.

The tenor of the posts seems to be positive toward Exxon Mobil. But some have been political, and others controversial, such as one that seemed to minimize the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Jeffers said the messages also contained "several inaccuracies," from the company's standpoint.

Forrester Research Inc. analyst Jeremiah Owyang said in a blog post that companies need to track Twitter and other Web 2.0 sites to make sure that they don't get "brand-jacked." Businesses "should be monitoring the discussion and [uses] of their keywords in social networks -- failure to do so results in becoming case studies," Owyang wrote.

Shel Holtz, principal of Holtz Communication + Technology, a consulting firm that focuses on corporate communications on the Web, agreed in his blog that the Janet case should be a wake-up call for corporate officials. "Far too many organizations shrug off emerging social media channels," he wrote.

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