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January 22, 2016

The danger of a hashtag in a marketing campaign

A successful hashtag can generate a huge amount of positive publicity and brand awareness if executed correctly. But if it goes wrong – it can generate even more publicity for all of the wrong reasons and alienate potential customers. Is it just the luck of the draw whether it succeeds or fails or is there a clear strategy that works?

Using Twitter hashtags

Coca-Cola is a great example of a brand with a long-standing campaign which has had a huge impact on the brand and its social media presence. Starting in 2011 in Australia, the #shareacoke campaign was eventually launched across 70 countries and is now considered pure marketing genius, generating a 7% increase in Coca-Cola consumption.

However, launching a hashtag within a marketing campaign isn’t always as successful as this, nor does it always have such a direct effect on sales.

There have been a few too many hashtag disasters in the past few years by brands and agencies. As something usually launched to generate brand awareness and encourage B2C relationships, a hashtag gone wrong can result in a barrage of negative tweets and open a can of worms for the brand in question.

With as many as 307 million Twitter users, ensuring you have your campaign just right is vital, and as some brands found out, particularly your hashtag.

Let’s take a look at a few of the hashtag campaigns gone wrong and what we can learn from them.

Bing – #SupportJapan

Back in 2011, search engine Bing used the Japan earthquake and tsunami to generate retweets in exchange for a $1 donation to go towards the company in despair.

Having caused over 15,000 deaths and with thousands more injured or missing, it’s no surprise that the public didn’t exactly take kindly to such a large, corporate company fishing for a bit of publicity off the back of such a terrible disaster; whether they were donating or not.

The hashtag was quickly hijacked and in exchange, an expletive was added to it and started trending around the world. Twitter users expressed their disgust at such a distasteful campaign.

Although its intentions may have been to genuinely raise crisis funds, the negativity surrounding the campaign almost certainly didn’t do Bing any favours and later the same day, the company released a public apology:

Bing Support Japan

Woolworths – #FreshInOurMemories

In April 2015, popular Australian supermarket, Woolworths, launched a commemoration website ‘Fresh in our Memories’ in the lead up to Anzac Day.

The campaign was aimed at encouraging users to upload their own war-related images to a generator which created an image emblazoned with the words “Lest we forget, Anzac 1915-2015”. At the bottom of the image the generator inserted the phrase “Fresh in our Memories” and a Woolworths logo.

It wasn’t long before the campaign was being criticised all over Twitter, with users quick to use Woolworths’ hashtag #FreshInOurMemories to call out the supermarket for being insensitive and disrespectful.

Amongst comments criticising the campaign on Twitter, were: “Is Anzac Day really a commercial opportunity?” and “This marketing campaign is crass.”

Woolworths subsequently took the site down and a spokesperson said: “’Fresh in our Memories’ is not a marketing campaign” and “our small logo on the site is in line with other corporately sponsored centenary of Anzac activity”.

The ad agency responsible promptly deleted their Twitter account and all association with Woolworths was removed.

The Victorian Taxi Association – #YourTaxis

Another example of a hashtag campaign that backfired came from The Victorian Taxi Association.  The company was in fierce competition with Uber at the time that they launched the #YourTaxis campaign, inviting users to share their taxi stories, seemingly in the hope of drumming up some positive support.

Users took this opportunity not to share their positive experiences with the company, but to criticise and share cases of racism, homophobia and harassment whilst using their cabs.

To make matters worse, the taxi firm then used this hashtag to jump on the back of Remembrance Day, but spelt ‘remembrance’ wrong:

Your Taxis

The taxi firm initially supported the campaign and said: “Social media is designed to offer the opportunity to engage directly with the community. YourTaxis has delivered exactly this.”

But later sacked their marketing agency and the @yourtaxi account said the following; “We’ve deleted an inappropriate tweet,” and later tweeting: “We are trying so hard to get this right and we are so sorry for our mistakes today.”

The public apology was a step in the right direction for the company’s bid to regain respect, unlike the unprofessional responses many big brands have been seen to release.

New York Police Department – #myNYPD

The American police departments have faced a lot of criticism over the years, particularly in 2014 in the aftermath of high-profile shootings which sparked national protests.

So their badly-timed campaign that was meant to generate positivity across social media only opened up the door for Twitter users to express their opinions, many negative, on the NYPD at that current time.

The campaign encouraged people to upload pictures of themselves with an NYPD officer, followed by the hashtag; #myNYPD.

Although many images of happy members of the public and NYPD officers streamed in, so did images of alleged police aggression and brutality.

Users took the opportunity to ask questions surrounding the recent incidents or to simply question the morals of the NYPD.

In response to the trending hashtag, a statement was released by NYPD saying: “The NYPD is creating new ways to communicate effectively with the community. Twitter provides an open forum for an uncensored exchange and this is an open dialogue good for our city.”

Getting it right

What the above examples show is that brands and agencies need to be extremely careful when opening themselves up to and encouraging Twitter feedback.

It is crucial that you don’t become so focused on your marketing and your brand that you forget about the bigger picture and remember to take into account what everyone else’s opinions might be.

Jumping on another event to market yourself, especially something like Remembrance Day, is very risky indeed. It’s not genuine and people will see right through that.

It has been known for brands to bounce back from a social media crisis, this tends to be when the response is quick and genuine. If you find yourself involved in a social media backlash from one of your own campaigns, the key is to get on top of it and issue an apology, sooner rather than later.

This makes the likelihood of coming back from a public backlash much more probable and in some cases can ease the trust lost. If anything, examples such as the ones discussed above demonstrate the importance of having a crisis management plan in place in preparation for any issues that may arise.

If you’d like to talk about an immediate crisis plan or discuss implementing a long-term crisis management strategy in preparation, feel free to get in touch with me in confidence at simon@igniyte.co.uk or call me on +44 (0)203 542 8689.

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