The short and seemingly random life of an Instagram account satirising Hog’s Breath Cafe has highlighted how easy it is for social media users to misrepresent major brands, drawing new attention to the ways small businesses and franchisees can defend their online presence.
In late July, Instagram account @hogsbreathorange, presenting as the legitimate account for the Orange franchise of the steakhouse chain, began posting images with bizarre and politically pointed captions.
“How many different types of meat can ya spot here?” asked one caption, underneath a photo of a Hog’s Breath Cafe meal.
“A: Heaps!! Delicious too. The woke left mob will try to ban us,” the caption concluded.
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Other posts were drenched in profanity, described alleged conflicts between the restaurant and Hog’s Breath Cafe headquarters, and urged customers to “stop sneaking it [sic] your own alcohol”.
The page drew a niche following as social media users tried to discern if the page was a parody, or if it was actually run by an unruly team member.
But after the account garnered coverage at youth media outlet PEDESTRIAN.TV, whoever stood behind the Instagram page shared a mea culpa.
“This page was set up as satire and has no affiliation with the real hogs breath,” the Instagram Story read, according to screenshots of the page shared by social media-focused podcast God is Dead.
“I’m sorry for any confusion caused, please do not harass the staff or owners of Hog’s Breath.”
The page soon went offline. As of Monday morning, attempts to visit the @hogsbreathorange page were unsuccessful.
@hogsorange, an account with legitimate posts stretching back to early 2020, remains online.
“This isn’t a case of hurting a faceless organisation”: Hog’s Breath Cafe CEO
Reflecting on the fake account, Steven Spurgin, CEO of Hog’s Breath Cafe, says it is “unfortunate” that anonymous social media users can stir such confusion.
“At Hog’s Breath we are fortunate to have such a loyal and supportive customer base, but to potentially have them exposed to content that is offensive and is unreflective of our brand is upsetting,” Spurgin told SmartCompany on Monday.
Particularly worrying for Spurgin was the fact staff at the real Hog’s Breath Cafe in Orange were drawn into a social media storm they never asked to be part of.
“Our system of franchisees are largely small business owners so this isn’t a case of hurting a faceless organisation,” he said.
“We’re talking about the businesses of hardworking Australians.”
Lookalike accounts draw attention to small business protections
Coincidentally, Hog’s Breath Cafe signed a new deal with creative and marketing agency BCM Group in July as the fake account gained traction.
Damien Musgrave, BCM Group account director, suggests “unapologetic and easy-going” businesses like Hog’s Breath Cafe still need to maintain control over how their brands are depicted online.
“The risk in situations like this, is that if you aren’t in control of the narrative and people take advantage of your brand persona the reputation that you’ve built can be at risk,” he said.
“The last thing that any brand wants is to offend anyone, die-hard fans or not.”
Although social media algorithms are capable of launching SMEs to the global stage, it is a fact that impersonators also have the potential to disrupt legitimate businesses.
With lookalike accounts capable of confusing would-be customers, impacted businesses should go on the offensive, Musgrave says.
“It’s important in any situation where you are being impersonated, fraudulently portrayed or if your account has been hacked, that you act quickly and on multiple fronts,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the anonymity of the internet means that sometimes these situations can be complex to address.”
Directly calling out the fake account can clear up confusion, but doing so runs the risk of inadvertently directing more attention to the offending account, Musgrave adds.
“It may be important to seek advice from a consultant or contact who understands the media cycle and reach of specific channels to assess when to pro-actively respond,” he said.
Should lookalike accounts persist, businesses can also report their content to the social media platform themselves.
Should a social media platform not take action the offending content — and if the posts fit the definition of adult cyber abuse — the Office of the eSafety Commissioner has its own reporting mechanism.
For small businesses which face serious and detrimental impersonation online, some protections may also exist under copyright law.
In extreme cases, defamation law may also come into play: while major corporations are unable to sue for defamation in any state or territory apart from ‘excluded corporations’ — like those with fewer than 10 employees.
SmartCompany does not claim the now-offline Hog’s Breath Cafe Orange Instagram account engaged in any unlawful activity.
However, those who viewed its content might think twice when considering posts from other legitimate accounts, and small businesses and franchisees have been given another lesson on how social media can both help or hinder a business’ profile.