Identity and Social Media – the latest victim: Virgin Australia

One of the problems we face in social media is it’s focus on identity, with so little support for it.
It’s one of the largest risks facing any brand (whether they are active in social or not) and should be keeping us all awake at night.

The appeal and growth of social media is based around identity. Sharing and relating, user generated content, relationships formed and bonded online. Yet every platform allows you to take on or create whatever identity you see fit. On October 10th,  this happened to Virgin Australia.

This post appeared online at 10:07 Thursday morning offering the promise of a high value prize with no strings attached.

It has the hallmarks of a great competition, a valuable prize and a low barrier to entry. A like and a share? So simple anyone can do it, and therein lies the weight of the ruse. Users are immediately engaged, and then cross the barrier on how to enter. The decision has been made and a user moves on without applying any reasoning or thought to it. And why would they? The competition requires no effort. There’s no reason to devote more than 10 seconds to it, you’re just as likely to win as someone who stares at it for an hour before engaging.

The post copy matches Virgin’s famous casual tone, and with no stand out grammatical errors it passes a quick visual test for legitimacy.

The fake page itself shouldn’t stand up to as much scrutiny.


The key standouts on the fake page are:

  • The fullstop on the end of the company name
  • the low number of likes on the page for a major Australian brand
  • The post history at the top right shows no previous content
  • The number of “friends who like this page”

On the other side of the coin, the real Virgin Australia has some major elements the copy does not:

  • A verified tick next to their name
  • a set of page tabs
  • A customised URL: (compared with

How many of these are easily identifiable to the average Facebook user? What use does the verified tick serve if I can act and engage on the content from within the feed?

The easy ability to clone and copy a brand in social media is a risk that all brands take. We’ve recently seen K-Mart and Big W suffer the same fate with competitions following a similar theme and even the mighty Apple has been victim to a string of fake accounts giving away “damaged stock”.

The questions remaining:

  • The first commenters, are they affiliated with the page creators?
  • Is the scam being actively monitored to do things like the custom URL or did the scammers gather 30 likes from friends before starting the charade?
  • Does Virgin plan to respond on their own page about this?

The real question here though is what protection does Facebook offer to a brand in this position? A slow to react system based around copyright or trademark claims will do little to protect Virgin’s reputation, and based on the success of the other posts on Virgin Australia’s facebook wall they’ll be lucky for an apology or acknowledgement of this fraud to reach 20% of the volume that this competition has already touched.

This fake competition (barely qualifies as a scam with no return to the original posters) is a reminder to all of us that monitoring for risk in social media doesn’t only mean your own page.

How to protect your brand?
One of the simplest ways is to search. Daily, weekly, a couple of times a day do a quick facebook search for your company name. Identifying content like this is time sensitive, you need to act quick.
If you do find yourself in this position immediately report the page for impersonation, or for a faster response take the time to lodge a proper trademark dispute with Facebook. You’ll need details of your trademarks and your company, but it’s one of the fastest ways to have content taken down.

And always thank your users when they share the content with you. Virgin has multiple instances of customers querying the contest with them and they have responded positively, quickly and warmly to everyone who’s taken the time to ask “Is this real?”. The last thing you want as a community manager is to react emotionally and poorly to confused customers reaching out for support.

Virgin Australia have reacted well to the situation raised on their own wall. How they react further is going to depend on how far this spreads and what reach it see’s before Facebook puts a stop to it. But with their offices now closed for the day this is likely to continue overnight and accelerate past it’s current rate of shares per second.

As of 7pm AEDST the post has 24,359 shares and 2,414 comments.

Thoughts? Add them below.
Update: The false page has been removed and is no longer visible. If anyone saw a share count closer to when it was deleted I’d love to see the numbers.


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