Tech Memo: Hashtag Hijacking

Don’t let your social campaigns get taken hostage.

Social media has given associations the power to interact with thousands of members and potential members, but that same sway can easily be usurped by critics and pranksters. Just look at the practice of “hashtag hijacking.”

Hashtags let organizations converse directly with customers, members, and others, usually giving fans the chance to share stories or praise. These pound-sign-prefaced phrases link messages, allowing social media users to cut through the constant flow of content to follow a single conversation.

But just as a fan can use the hashtag to let the world know how much they love you, detractors can share their scorn to thousands of pairs of eyes. Or ambiguous phrasing can derail your campaign when users adopt a hashtag in posts that have nothing to do with your message.

Tide’s 2013 #cleanwins campaign is a classic example. Soon after its launch, it was clear that the detergent brand had misfired, as the hashtag was used in a variety of unintended ways—on posts promoting religion and all-natural cleaning alternatives, for example. More damaging was the Minerals Council of Australia’s multipronged pro-coal campaign in 2014 with the hashtag #australiansforcoal. Rather than garner support, the hashtag was used to ruthlessly mock the industry.

But fear not. Jeremy Goldman, founder and CEO of digital consulting agency Firebrand Group, offers these tips to keep your hashtag from being taken hostage:

Plan ahead. Try not to pick a hashtag that easily can be mocked, misconstrued, or otherwise misused. A fast-food chain, for instance, might not want to use a hashtag that includes the word “healthy.”

Avoid groupthink. Shop your hashtag ideas around. A fresh set of eyes may detect a disaster waiting to happen. Tap key staff and volunteers to critique any hashtag campaign well beforehand.

Be aware of your surroundings. Local players with an agenda of their own may attempt to hijack a hashtag to further their own goals. Travel officials in the Maldives saw dissidents use their social media tourism promotion to spread photos of alleged human rights abuses, for example.

Arm your supporters with information. Once potential avenues for hijacking are identified, make sure your surrogates are ready to counter misinformation.


Derrick Perkins

By Derrick Perkins

Derrick Perkins is an associate editor at Associations Now. In his career as a reporter, editor, and photographer, he has covered communities in New England and Virginia as well as the Defense Department. MORE

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