Welcome to the murky world of social media marketing

In the latest unexpected development in #AlexfromTarget, the company that took credit yesterday for making #AlexfromTarget go viral is now backtracking its claims.

The firm, called Breakr, faced questions Tuesday evening after both Alex himself and @auscalum, the person credited with first tweeting Alex’s picture the day it went viral, posted that they didn’t know Breakr. In response, the firm granted interviews with Mashable and Buzzfeed. CEO Dil-Domine Jacobe Leonares tweeted answers to people’s questions and in these followup conversations new information came to light.

Breakr publicly stated that @auscalum, the person credited with the initial tweet that made #AlexfromTarget go viral, doesn’t work for them. It also said it never took credit for taking the picture. Lastly, it retweeted criticisms of the original CNET article.

A retweet from Breakr's Twitter account

A retweet from Breakr’s Twitter account

Furthermore, Breakr admitted that it didn’t tell @auscalum to tweet the photo, despite telling Mashable the opposite, not to mention insinuating exactly that in its original LinkedIn post, excerpted below.

We wanted to see how powerful the fangirl demographic was by taking a unknown good-looking kid and Target employee from Texas to overnight viral internet sensation. Abbie (@auscalum), one of our fangirls from Kensington, UK posted this picture of Alex Lee (@acl163) on Twitter. After spreading the word amongst our fangirl followers to trend #AlexFromTarget, we started adding fuel to the fire by tweeting about it to our bigger YouTube influencers.

The key word there is “fangirl.” It has a vague amorphous sound, one that could conceivably be the bedrock of a social media firm’s network. But in tweets with Marc Andreessen, Leonares makes it sound like fangirls might just be people who follow Breakr on Twitter.

Even by that weak definition @auscalum isn’t a “fangirl” – she doesn’t follow Breakr, but the company says that’s because she unfollowed them after all the negative attention. In response, @auscalum told CNET Breakr told her to follow them, so she dd. Then they direct messaged her asking if they could handle her press, so she unfollowed them.

This whole saga is the internet equivalent of a soap opera.

Mashable and media analyst Thomas Baekdal separately looked at Breakr’s social influence numbers and they’re woefully lacking. Some of the Twitter and YouTube influencers it mentions as part of its network only have a few thousand followers, which is nowhere near star status.

Conversation between CNET's Chris Matyszczyk and Breakr on Twitter. It formed the basis of CNET's story.

Conversation between CNET’s Chris Matyszczyk and Breakr on Twitter. It formed the basis of CNET’s story.

Twitter user @auscalum told people she found the image on Tumblr. Alex himself claims he never saw the photo until his store manager showed it to him.

This is a direct contradiction to what Breakr initially told CNET in publicly available tweets (see left). It claimed that “Alex himself authorized the use of the pic,” and “one of our kids works with him at Target.” Now, it’s not clear where the company got that. Leonares didn’t respond when I asked him about it on Twitter.

Like most of the internet, I believed (perhaps too hastily) that Breakr’s original claims were legitimate. I won’t make that mistake again when dealing with social media marketing companies.