Hashtag Failures Lead to Public Backlash on Twitter

Twitter is recognized and often praised for breaking down walls and opening the lines of communication between businesses & customers, celebrities & fans, and politicians & constituents. So what happens when 140 characters are misread, or when hashtags that are used to filter discussions are abused? The resulting commentary on the social networking site is nothing but an embarrassing paper trail for those guilty of such poor judgment.

In an effort to incite a trending topic on Twitter, McDonald’s promoted a #McDstories hashtag campaign earlier this week. It quickly backfired when Twitter users began posting their horrific experiences with the fast food restaurant, service and food alike. One of the tamest tweets of the bunch stated, “My memories of walking into a McDonald’s: the sensory experience of inhaling deeply from a freshly-opened can of dog food. #McDstories”

McDonald’s is far from the only company to meet failure through efforts to promote a product in a trending topic. Surprisingly, their mistake of promoting a vague hashtag pales in comparison to some of these other Twitter faux pas:

Entenmann’s tried to jump into a hashtag trend, stating, “Who’s #notguilty about eating all the tasty treats they want?!” Unfortunately for this baked goods manufacturer, the #notguilty tag was trending as a result of the Casey Anthony trial. Whether it was an oversight or simply poor judgment, Entenmann’s issued an apology shortly after the angry responses came flowing into their Twitter feed.

Kenneth Cole was accused of “hashtag hijacking” when he posted, during the Egyptian revolution, “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online…” with a link to his products.

Furniture maker Habitat is also guilty of hashtag hijacking, but in a way many consider to be the least effective and most offensive: when advertising a £1,000 gift card offer, they carelessly tagged each tweet with one of the top 10 trending topics that day including #Iran and #Mousavi. While Kenneth Cole took full responsibility for his tweet and, like Entenmann’s, issued an apology for insensitivity, Habitat blamed an intern who was subsequently fired.

There are countless ways to find you have committed a hashtag hijack or simply tagged a post in a way that will mislead users and result in backlash within this very public forum. The verdict is still out on whether or not bad publicity, like that in these aforementioned Twitter blunders, is better than none at all. Habitat seemed to think no Twitter presence was better than a negative one, and deleted their account after their intern’s misguided tweeting caused such an uproar.

It is important for businesses to maintain a presence on these social networking sites and to encourage communication with clients and customers; however, it is equally pertinent to consider social media etiquette before sending controversial and potential harmful information to your followers. If you neglect this and abuse Twitter tools in a marketing scheme, you may find your influence diminishing very quickly.


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