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Anatomy of a Twitter Parody Account

Posted on December 7, 2015

 

What is a Twitter parody account?

Considering Twitter hasn’t even been around for a decade, it has radically changed the way we communicate with each other, with celebrities and with businesses, and it has revolutionised the way we consume news. Rather than watching scheduled news broadcasts on the television, listening to the radio or even reading websites, Twitter provides us with instant news about events as they happen, from the people actually there. Twitter has turned everyone into journalists, everyone into analysts and everyone into social commentators.

Twitter has also turned people into comedians, satirists and social crusaders – giving them a voice and platform with which to reach a new audience and, if their content is good enough, grow that audience and become a social influencer by the medium of the parody account.

Don’t be fooled however, because not every Twitter parody account is operated by a slovenly teenager unable to communicate in the real world. Nor are they just angry customers of businesses who have had the proverbial Popeye helping of ‘all they can stands’. No, some parody accounts (and you can never be certain which ones) are operated by businesses, by social media marketing gurus, by Twitter experts, and they’re operated in bulk with one purpose, and one purpose alone… to make money.

Aren’t they just trolls?

The word ‘troll’ is probably one of the most misused words on the internet. Whenever someone says something offensive in a website comment, in a forum, on Facebook or on Twitter, they’re labelled ‘trolls’. This is not the case. An online troll isn’t someone who is offensive for the sake of it. They’re not people who argue because they’ve nothing better to do and they are certainly not idiots.

A troll, a real troll, is a very skilled individual at derailing a conversation, thread or Twitter account away from its intending outcome. A troll will successfully, and extremely skilfully, cause arguments and disharmony among others by directing the conversation towards the path he wants. He won’t necessarily insult anyone, use bad language or throw in childish comments. No, he will often be very eloquent, intelligent and persuasive, but his goal is always the same – to get everyone talking about what he wants them talking about.

So yes, some parody accounts are Twitter trolls – but only the very best ones. Click To Tweet

Why would you make a Twitter parody account?

This is the million dollar question. What are you trying to achieve? What is your motivation behind making the parody account? Are you just trying to have a bit of fun, are you trying to grow your Twitter skills, are you trying to make a difference?

Seriously, that last one is a genuine one – some Twitter parody accounts have been created in an attempt to highlight a cause. For example, the Twitter account @BPCares has been created to try to raise awareness of the way the account creator feels the real BP is conducting its business. The Twitter parody account @notzuckerberg is a parody of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, and it tweets satirical comments relating to Facebook’s much reported tax position, and the use of its data.

Of course, not every Twitter parody account is a social crusader out to make the world a better place. Some are just people who want to make others laugh, and build up a massive following in the process. One of the most amusing Twitter parody accounts, and something that really wouldn’t have been tolerated a few hundred years ago (had Twitter, the internet and electricity existed then), is @Queen_UK – an account with more than 1.3 million followers. This Twitter parody account tweets several times a day about things affecting the monarchy, politics and anything in the public eye.

Naturally, when you accrue that many followers, you can look at monetising them. @Queen_UK does this regularly by posting links to buy merchandise for the parody account, and it even has its own book available on Amazon, a compendium of tweets called ‘Gin o’clock’. If you are planning to build followers and sell merchandise however, ensure you read this full article and pay particular attention to the Twitter rules on parody accounts, below.

What are the rules for a Twitter parody account?

First and foremost, it’s important to dispel some myths surrounded Twitter parody accounts. They are NOT against Twitter’s terms of service and, in fact, are actively encouraged. The subject of the Parody, whether it’s a celebrity or a company, might feel their brand is being tarnished by the presence of a Twitter parody account, but there’s actually nothing stopping someone from creating the account and nothing they can do to get the account removed – so long as the owner of the account plays by the rules.

So what are the rules? Twitter actually has a whole section on this

The golden rule is that you can’t mislead someone into thinking your Twitter account is actually the person you’re parodying. If there is any chance someone could mistake your parody account for the real account, then you’re on dodgy ground and could be seen as an imposter account attempting to deliberately fool people, so you need to make it very clear your account is a parody. You can do this by using words such as ‘parody’, ‘fake’ or ‘fan’ in your Twitter name and username. You should also do this in your bio, making it clear your account is not affiliated with the official account.

So long as you follow these very straightforward and simple guidelines, your Twitter parody account cannot be found to be in breach of Twitter’s rules regarding trademark or impersonation.

Profile images of a Twitter parody account

A common myth with a Twitter parody account is that you can’t use the logo of a company you’re parodying, or you can’t use a photo of a celebrity you’re parodying. This is untrue. Twitter even explains this on its FAQ covering its impersonation policy

Accounts with similar usernames or that are similar in appearance (e.g. the same background or avatar image) are not automatically in violation of the impersonation policy. In order to be impersonation, the account must also portray another person in a misleading or deceptive manner.

This means if you’re impersonating Tesco, for example, you could use a photo of a Tesco store, or something using their branding – so long as you state you are a parody account, or make it very obvious you’re not actually Tesco.

What can get a Twitter parody account suspended?

There is a loophole where the parody account could fall foul of Twitter’s rules and successfully be reported and suspended from Twitter. So, if you’re running a parody account, listen up. If you’re trying to get a parody account removed, really pay attention.

account-suspended

Twitter reacts swiftly and decisively (and with little room for negotiation on behalf of the account deemed to have crossed the line) when it comes to posting content deemed private, or personal. This applies to contact details (such as phone numbers, email addresses or home addresses) or even photographs. Posting a photograph that’s deemed private by the subject is grounds to report the offending Twitter account and, in most cases, Twitter will take action. Repeated breaches of these rules will see an account deleted.

If you’re running a parody account of a company, posting photographs of the real company’s directors to your Twitter parody account could well come under these rules. Equally, if you’re running a parody account for a celebrity, posting unofficial paparazzi snaps or leaked/stolen photographs could see your account deleted.

Harassment or abusive behaviour

While ensuring your Twitter parody account follows the rules regarding trademark or impersonation will ensure your account doesn’t get penalised for either of those pitfalls, you can still suffer at the hands of the more general issue of abuse. This area applies to every form of Twitter account, not just parody accounts.

You must remember that anything you write online, whether on Twitter or on another website such as Facebook, Instagram or something else entirely, is traceable back to you. If you use a computer in your home, at school or at work, everything you post is logged with your IP address and, in many cases, with the ID of the terminal you’re using (the exact computer you have used). If you use a smartphone, such as an iPhone, it’s even easier to trace as the IP address of the phone is logged and, with one particular mobile phone operator, the phone number of the device is also dropped on the websites it browses – which means it’s VERY easy to trace for the website owner if they know what to look for.

With Twitter accounts, anything posted can be tied to the email address, geographic location, IP address and specific device making the tweets.

So, be under no allusions, Twitter is not anonymous… it is traceable back to you. Click To Tweet

Therefore, anything you say on Twitter should be carefully considered. Would you feel comfortable saying it to someone’s face? Would you be comfortable explaining your comments to someone? Perhaps a friend, parent or police officer?

If not, don’t tweet it.

If you tweet something abusive, or something sexually offensive or racist, you could quite possibly have your Twitter account shut down AND face criminal charges. There have already been examples of people being arrested because of tweets they have made and thought they could get away with because they assumed Twitter was anonymous, or wasn’t something to be taken seriously.

For example, there’s the teenager who was arrested for tweeting a bomb threat to an airport or the student who was jailed for comments made about former Spurs footballer Fabrice Muamba.

There’s nothing wrong with a parody account. There’s nothing wrong with comedy. There is something wrong with offensive behaviour and criminal actions.

Growing followers for your parody account

A parody account isn’t going to be successful without followers and engagement. Your first step when setting up your parody account should be to grow followers and, for the purposes of this article, we’ll assume your parody account is lampooning a business or company.

We’ll assume you have set up your parody account with a suitable name and Twitter username (using something like ‘not’, ‘fan’ or ‘parody’ in the name) and we’ll assume you have created a suitable avatar and header image. Now you need to grow followers, but where to start?

Obviously, start with the subject of your parody – the genuine account itself (assuming they have one, as some companies are conspicuous by their absence on Twitter). Follow the official account, your inspiration, your raison d’etre. Now, and this is the clever bit (it’s actually quite obvious, but will appear clever to some), click on the account’s followers and… you’ve guessed it… follow them.

As a tip, it’s easier and quicker to do this from the Twitter app, such as on the iPhone. You’re able to quickly go down the screen tapping ‘follow’ with your finger much quicker than you can via the desktop version.

Keep doing this for as long as Twitter will allow you. Eventually, it will stop you, as Twitter has a closely guarded algorithm to stop automated accounts from following too many people. It will prevent you from following people for a period of time, or until you gain followers of your own. Guess what? Some of those people will follow you back – especially if they realise you’re a parody account of the company they’re following, and they’re following that company to complain.

Next, search Twitter for the name of the company and select ‘Live’ instead of ‘Latest’. This will show, ironically, the latest tweets as they happen featuring that company’s name. If you see tweets by people that are ‘on message’ with the tone of your parody account, retweet them. Follow them. Reply to them. In short, fan the flames of discontent.

You will be amazed how easy it is, and how quickly you’ll build up followers and engagement.

Repeat

After about a week, and using the desktop version of Twitter rather than the app, go through the people you are following and ‘unfollow’ those who are not following you back. This is easier on the desktop version of Twitter because it shows who is following you from the same page, whereas the app doesn’t show this without clicking through to them.

By doing this, you are able to repeat the process and follow more people yourself, this time using the app of course.

At some point you’re likely to be blocked by the official account. This doesn’t matter, and should be expected. If you don’t get blocked, you’re doing something wrong. Once you are blocked you can no longer harvest the official account’s followers, which is annoying. Well, we say you can no longer harvest its followers, but what we mean is that you can no longer harvest its followers with your parody account. You can of course use another account to harvest its followers, and then harvest them from that account using your parody account. It takes a bit longer, but it’s still a quick way of getting a targeted audience.

How do you avoid getting a Twitter parody account of your business?

Now isn’t this the question? Well, the most asked question will be ‘how do you defeat a Twitter parody account’, but the real question should be ‘how do you avoid getting one in the first place’. That’s the problem, we’re always preoccupied with cure rather than prevention, but we’ll tackle both questions anyway, as they’re both answered with the same solution.

The first thing to ask is what causes a Twitter parody account for a business? Most businesses will like to think it’s a competitor trying to defame their good name, or a former employee with an axe to grind. The reality is, however, that it’s probably customer or former client who has just had enough of the way they’ve been treated, especially from a customer service perspective. Everybody has bad experiences with businesses; it’s a fact of business. Not everyone is happy all of the time. Not everyone is always on their A-game and sometimes things go wrong. We expect that. It’s how you’re treated when something goes wrong that counts, and that’s usually where these parody accounts stem from.

Twitter gives businesses the opportunity to interact instantly with customers, and resolve any issues or complaints quickly and publically. This is an opportunity that should not be ignored, as the complaints and bad publicity will exist on Twitter whether or not the business itself reacts to it. To ignore it is to allow the complaints to build up, the customers to get angrier and the parody accounts to form and flourish.

A business that keeps on top of customer feedback via Twitter, and deals with issues decisively, will stop any complaints from escalating. When someone makes a complaint via Twitter, all they want is to be heard, listened to and to have their complaint dealt with. If the business does this swiftly, courteously and effectively, no parody account can survive in that environment. For a parody account to be successful, it requires the support of the customers, and for them to share its viewpoint. If the business is responding to tweets from customers, and solving their problems, their anger will be diffused and support for the parody account will dwindle.

Of course, if the business starts dealing with things properly via Twitter, does this mean the parody account has ultimately been successful?

That’s one to contemplate perhaps, but it’s not something we think happens very often. Rather than dealing with the cause of a parody account (a severely dissatisfied customer), businesses usually deal with the account itself by blocking it, and occasionally reporting it. This doesn’t work. If you block the account, you can no longer see what it’s tweeting – which is always a bad idea. If you report the account, you’re wasting your time, unless of course the parody account has broken the rules. As we’ve discussed, this is unlikely.

Our steps to dealing with a Twitter parody account are very simple. They require effort, but no more than the person who has created the account is willing to put in themselves. Equally, our steps for creating a Twitter parody account are very simple, and require some degree of effort. If you’re motivated enough, however, it’s certainly worth it.

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