As all social media marketers are aware, the “hashtag” can be a very powerful tool, whether it is used on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or any other such platform. However, as the age old adage goes, with great power comes great responsibility. We will be taking a look at several big name brands who made some irresponsible (and even just plain silly) hashtag mistakes when utilizing the promotional power of these keywords.
Recently, McDonald’s launched a Twitter campaign prompting followers to share personal stories about their McDonald’s meals using the hashtag #McDStories. Unfortunately, this hashtag quickly became hijacked by jokers and dissatisfied patrons, who began slinging horror stories about food sickness and such.
Lesson: Keep in mind that your followers will not always say what you initially intend and a harmless prompt can quickly backfire. Remember that using a hashtag on social media is essentially initiating an open forum discussion, trending on your hashtag keyword.
Snack and pastry company, Entenmanns lost some serious PR points when they employed the #notguilty tag (intended for the Casey Anthony trail verdict, which had been reached earlier that day). Needless to say, the tweet was removed when followers expressed their disdain for the distasteful use of a trending tag.
Lesson: When using a trending hashtag that you or your company may find clever because of its relevance to current events, think first! The last thing you want to do is to come across to your followers as insensitive.
Celeb Boutique: #Aurora
This is one of the more tasteless hashtag failures that we have come across. Following the tragedy of the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, Celeb Boutique attempted to use the trending #Aurora tag to promote their new line of dresses.
Lesson: Pretty straightforward on this one, folks. Don’t abuse a tag meant to promote awareness of a current tragedy just because it is trending. The PR nightmare that it is going to cause will do you much more harm than good.
Here we have a prime example of social media users hijacking a well-intended hashtag and running wild with it. #MuslimRage was meant to promote conversation about the September 2012 issue of Newsweek magazine, but thanks to immature jokers, things rapidly got out of hand.
Lesson: Expect the unexpected. Before using a hashtag, be aware that you will have little to no say about the conversations that will spring up around your keyword.
If you don’t know why this hashtag is both hilarious and inappropriate, I am not going to explain it here, but it is nothing that you cannot figure out in 4 seconds with a quick Google search or trip to www.urbandictionary.com.
This initially innocent hashtag was intended to promote awareness for jobs with BlackBerry (RIM stands for Research in Motion, the original patent name of the company). Unfortunately, by some means unknown, the entire marketing department of BlackBerry failed to realize that their hashtag had a very different meaning which made countless adolescents and immature adults giggle uncontrollably.
Lesson: Not much to say here in terms of a retrospective lesson–just do your homework and make sure that your promotional keyword doesn’t also double as a niche sexual act.
Kenneth Cole: #Cairo
Another PR disaster occurred when clothing company Kenneth Cole linked the release of its spring collection of clothes and accessories to the trending #Cairo tag, in response to the unrest and rebellion in Cairo, Egypt. Again, a move like this is just plain insensitive.
Lesson: Same as before–don’t ruin your public opinion by distastefully using a current event to promote your posts. There are plenty of other ways to generate hype for your brand.
Urban Outfitters: #frankenstorm
Sometimes, a company won’t even wait until a tragedy has subsided before trying to hop on the hashtag bandwagon. This is the case with Urban Outfitters, who, during the onset of super-storm Sandy, promoted free shipping from their website with the #frankenstorm tag, referencing the devastating hurricane.
Lesson: Be sensitive with your tweets, and think about how others may react to a questionable post, because more often than not, it will be negatively.
Although this last one isn’t directly a hashtag, it still follows the same principles as what we have been discussing. Now, out of context, you may think that there is nothing wrong with this tweet, and out of context, you would be right. However, the issue arises when you realize that this tweet was posted on Martin Luther King Day, presumably linking dreams of tacos with MLK’s dream of racial equality. Sorry Taco Bell, your food may be delicious, but it is certainly not on par with King’s “I have a dream…” speech.
Lesson: I am probably starting to sound like a broken record at this point, but this factor cannot be stressed enough. When you are using a hashtag, you are opening up a public conversation, so it is imperative that you have the general public in mind. Don’t offend your audience in exchange for humor.