So far we have dealt with what a hashtag is and how it aids marketers in their online promotional efforts. Although a great way to market on social media, hashtags have their drawbacks. In this article we look at some challenges associated with using hashtags in marketing and examine some cases of hashtag fails.
Marketers must consider some of the following challenges associated with hashtags and thread cautiously when employing them in their online promotional efforts.
Even though hashtags are a very useful tool in marketing, some people think they are a bunch of nonsense. A lot of jokes have been told about the ridiculousness of hashtags and so most people have come to accept that they are just irrational tags assigned to words. This is partly due to the abuse of hashtags on social media platforms. Their flaws notwithstanding, it would be a mistake to underestimate or avoid hashtags because of the perception that it is just a trending jargon online which will die down soon. In a world where the majority carries the vote, if millions of people are using something, there has to be a reason.
In a very popular and hilarious YouTube video of the Tonight show, Jimmy Farlon and Justin Timberlake joke about how hashtag conversations sound in real life – Figure 1
Figure 1 – A shot of the YouTube video where Jimmy and Justin attempt to have a conversation with #hashtags.
Too many people see others using hashtags and think it is okay to assign“#” to any word, phrase or sentiment, and run with it. It can be annoying, certainly, to see people hashtagging in inappropriate places (Figure 2) or creating arbitrary new ones where it does not seem necessary.
Figure 2 – An example of the misuse of hashtags in a conversation
But it is unforgivable for a brand to commit this hashtag crime (Figure 3). A brand should have a hashtag strategy. We will discuss this further in next week’s article.
Figure 3 – A brands misuse of hashtags
Figure 4 is an example of another classic misuse of hashtags.
“Iraq ISIS insurgents tweeted a photo of a police officer who they beheaded in the officer’s own home and accompanied the tweet with a depraved joke about using the murdered policeman’s severed head as a soccer ball — even including the hashtag #WorldCup and #Worldcup2014 in the text of the Twitter message. They accompanied the tweet by also posting a full video of the murder.”
Figure 4- “This is our ball…it is made of skin.”#WorldCup #WorldCup2014.”
When you add the hash symbol before a word, it becomes a hashtag. Anyone else can use and exploit it on social media. This makes hashtags susceptible to being taking over and used for purposes other than what their creators intended. When this happens it means a hashtag has been hijacked. It becomes difficult, especially in business, if it is hijacked and used nefariously. Below are three case studies of how hashtag promotions by brands were hijacked.
- A Twitter campaign by McDonald’s, aimed at highlighting good news relating to the fast food chain, completely backfired when people used the hashtag ‘#McDStories‘, to highlight their horror stories. On January 18th 2012, Mcdonald’s sent out two tweets with the hashtag ‘#McDStories‘, in an attempt to highlight the “hard-working people” who provide McDonald’s with their food.
“Although McDonald’s only used the hashtag twice, it took on a life of its own. Observers used the trend to either tell share their own past problems with the burger chain, or simply mock the ‘Golden Arches’. The tweets ranged from users highlighting unemployment stories, customers vomiting, people finding fingernails in their food and suffering stomach problems.”
- When the upmarket grocery chain Waitrose, asked shoppers to complete the sentence: “I shop at Waitrose because …” using the hashtag #WaitroseReasons, the hashtag was hijacked. The comments however were generally jokes about the brand’s upmarket image rather than complaints about shoddy service or poor quality food.
- Vodafone was left bemused when Twitter users redeployed the PR #mademesmile tag to publish tax avoidance allegations direct to the company’s website.
“It was a clever PR ruse designed to promote Vodafone as generous, Christmas-loving and hip: the mobile phone operator would give away free handsets to lucky Twitter users who used the tag #mademesmile to tell the company what made them beam.
In less than 24 hours the term had proved so popular it was the most discussed Twitter topic in the world. The only snag? It was being used to draw attention to the company’s alleged tax avoidance.”
Hashtags can be potentially ambiguous and open to more than one interpretation. In some cases the interpretations may be one which is usually risqué or indecent. The examples below are some hashtag promotion fails because of their double meanings.
- #SusanAlbumParty, which was more often tweeted as #susanalbumparty – no need to explain this one further, see Figure 5.
- #NowThatchersDead, which to many read #now that cher is dead indicating the singer Cher had passed – which was later debunked.
Figure 5 – The tweet about Susan Boyle’s album party which backfired.
Putting words together to form a hash tag may be daunting considering these faux pas. To avoid these mistakes, it is advisable to read over you phrases intended to be tagged carefully. You can show them to someone re-read after you are done. You can also capitalize each word. The words listed below may have had different meanings if they were not capitalized.
Beware of spamming hashtags. Businesses which use hashtags as a form of spam are quickly tossed from the virtual nest. Who wants to see adverts of perfumes when discussing the rising cost of housing? In the example below (Figure 6) job advertisements are tagged with #nbafinals, #lebronjames #spurs #goheat etc.
Figure 6 - This Facebook advert was supposed to promote Job Openings in Dubai!
Just the hashtag?
Even though hashtags have the potential of going viral, there are always questions about their effectiveness in terms of generating sales or other forms of commitments from an audience. Activists have used hashtags as the perfect platform to get their messages out there, easily and quickly spread statistics, and build momentum for a movement. But does the success of a hashtag have any bearing on the decisions being made by policy leaders?
#Kony2012 was started by the non-profit Invisible Children, the social media campaign was designed to pressure lawmakers to catch Joseph Kony, the warlord in charge of the violent Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, by the end of 2012. Some people deem #Kony2012 a failure because it is 2014 and Joseph Kony is still at large.
People have asked whether social media can #BringBackOurgirls. There are a lot of doubts surrounding the efficacy of this campaign since no efforts have been made to release the 200 plus girls captured by the Boko Haram in Nigeria. Despite the huge global outcry #BringBackOurGirls, the Boko Haram continues to operate with impunity in Nigeria.
In 2011, the highly publicized trial of Casey Anthony for murdering her 2-year-old daughter Caylee ended with the jury declining to convict her of either first degree murder or manslaughter. Outraged observers took to twitter to vent their anger and within hours #notguilty was trending. Cashing in on the trending topic, Entenmann’s, an American manufacturer of baked goods used the hashtag #notguilty to describe indulging in a tasty treat. (Figure 7) There was so much backlash that Entenmanns had to apologize saying their unintentional yet insensitive tweet was not referencing the trial.
Figure 7 – the infamous tweet by Entenmanns
“Depending on what you believe, the voice of Entenmann’s [Twitter account] either decided it would be funny to hashtag surf on the trending #notguilty hashtag or sincerely didn’t look and just stuck a random #notguilty in a tweet about eating tasty tweets, presumably to get pickup,” – TechCrunch
The hashtag still has potential despite the epic failures discussed above. Next week we will examine best practices for using hashtags and how to rise above the common mistakes made when marketing with hashtags.