From Twitter, Facebook and other popular social networks to everyday speech, hashtags have become a part of our society. Designed as a way to clearly communicate search terms and to connect trending information for easy viewing, it’s hard to find a post that doesn’t incorporate some form of the omnificent hashtag.
With the rise of hashtags, hashtag hijacking has also been on the rise. From consumers overtaking otherwise innocent hashtag campaigns, like the now infamous NYPD situation earlier this year, to one company hijacking another company’s hashtag for their own use or promotion, the practice is on the rise.
Whether your brand is looking at creating a campaign involving hashtags, or is looking to jump on the hijacking train, there are some considerations. These especially apply to times when hashtags shouldn’t be used or when hijacking a hashtag just won’t work. While some consequences could be minor, others could have major implications.
A few situations where a hijack won’t work include:
When No One is in Charge
Social media is not a post it and go activity. In fact, without moderation, a takeover can happen quickly with extremely negative consequences. If no one is in charge of a hashtag campaign, or hashtag hijacking, it could get out of control fast.
Consider the #McDStories hijacking of 2012. This innocent campaign turned bad when consumers jumped in and shared negative experiences. Not quite what the brand had in mind. Also, with little moderation, there was no stopping the fury.
When Potentially Sensitive Information is at Stake
Sometimes the public shouldn’t have access to certain information. If you work with a brand that relies on consumer trust or sensitive information that just shouldn’t be shared, it’s probably better to not provide the opportunity for a hijacking.
Designer Kenneth Cole learned this lesson when a tweet about the Egyptian uprising, where thousands died, was taken out of context and exploited. Not only was public trust lost, the image of the designer suffered.
When it’s Irrelevant
Sure, Game of Thrones is a popular TV show. Some would argue that it’s one of the most watched epic adventure series of all times. As such, many #GoT hashtag hijackings have been attempted by companies looking to reach a broader audience. Some have been a hit:
While others have fallen short:
Think about your audience. A storage facilities company might have a hard time hijacking a Game of Thrones hashtag, in the same way Bud Light failed. However, they might see great success in hijacking a hashtag relating to Storage Wars or another more similar cultural phenomenon.
When it’s Completely Self-Serving
Yes, brand promotion on social media sites is about increasing a digital footprint, engaging customers and sharing what you have to offer with the end goal of a conversion. However, if a hashtag is too obvious, vain or otherwise self-serving, it’s probably not going to end the way you’re hoping.
American Express learned this lesson the hard way with a #AmexBeInspired hashtag campaign that was supposedly designed to raise money for specific charities. However, when over half of the company’s posts related back to praising the brand, instead of helping the organization in question, followers took over. The hijack resulted in a loss of brand trust and negative feedback. PR nightmare, anyone?
Think carefully about hijacking a hashtag, and about the way a hashtag you create could be hijacked. In some situations, it’s better to stay out of the game rather than jumping in and creating an online crisis. However, when proper forethought, a little creativity and a proper management strategy are all working together, a hijack can be the perfect opportunity to reach a larger online audience. Think carefully, work strategically.