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How Promoted Hashtags Can Ruin Your Online Campaign Efforts

Fail Whale

Let’s evaluate the potential opportunities that can instill positive feelings and compel followers to share, participate and engage in social conversation. One of the most surefire ways to encourage conversation on your nonprofit or association is through the use of hashtags on Twitter.   But in order to carry out a successful campaign that instills positive feelings, we must use judgment and minimize risk.  We can do so by looking at a famous previous campaign that has gone poorly for a brand, which will show you just how promoted hashtags can crush your online efforts.


Perhaps no tale can be more cautionary than McDonalds when it comes to social strategy.  In theory, the idea behind promoting the hashtag #McDStories might produce great results filled with the sharing of fond memories of eating McDonalds with family and friends throughout the restuarant’s long history. It would be a great blast from the past if others had stories from 50’s when it started its worldwide growth.  But on the contrary, most people think of indigestion and clogged arteries when they think of the famous golden arches.

Instead of inspiring the happiest of memories, the promoted #McDStories hashtag brought around a relentless swarming of McDonald detractors hoping to bring around the online demise of the brand’s reputation.  In fact, despite this campaign occurring over a year ago, the “bashtag” still lives on today.

Fortunately, unlike McDonalds, your nonprofit is probably inherently more “inspiring” to the online public.  As a result, it could be highly beneficial to suggest to individuals your own #brandstory hashtag to get followers to share those moments that your association managed to support a cause and change a life.   It’s essential that your brand get the ball rolling and share stories from people who have touted your nonprofit/association in the past.

For this strategy be careful with creative plays on words or puns, for they could lead to miscommunication and desired intent, and instead attract a number of unwanted reactions.  Rather, make sure your #SharingStories hashtag be a compelling call to action to share a story coupled with your brand name.  For instance, Ten Thousand Villages, would want to stick to something like #10kVillages and not something like #TenThousandStories.  It’s even more essential that if your business already has a community, that you use this tactic to bring them together.  Take schools for example.  Vista College is an online university, so their students thrive on internet interaction.  As a result, they should be utilizing more promoted hashtags to bring these students together, perhaps by subject matter, major, course electives, etc.  Vista College is missing out on a lot of social opportunity.

Here are a couple of other lessons you can learn in order to safely implement this strategy.

Context is Key

If you’re going to go down this road, it’s important your followers understand you.  In order to impart the intended reaction from the public, you have to lead them in the right direction.  Explain the context of the hashtag and provide examples.  Instead of letting their minds wander, taking the time to do this will simply ensure that you social campaign doesn’t turn into a social catastrophe.  For instance, McDonalds never really explained the hashtag #McDStories.  Here was their introductory tweet.  Take from it what you will.

McDonalds Promoted Tweets


Address the Naysayers

If anything does go south, take this tremendous opportunity to connect with those online bashers and build a relationship with them.  They may have priceless insight into your brand and how it’s perceived, so addressing the problem can be key to success.  Not to mention, if you’re able to win them over, they’ll be brand advocates for a long time.  The amount of appreciate a follower gains whenever a brand addresses the concern can convert even the most cynical of people, and can turn them into advocates.  Earn their trust early, address the problem and consider their suggestions for the company as a whole.  You’ll be better served to win over donors and support in later campaigns as well as ensure that the remainder of the campaign goes smoother.

Again, McDonalds did everything wrong in this situation.  Instead of addressing the issue they immediately hid from it.  The minute the bashing and exploitation began with #McDStories, the company’s social voice pulled down the tweets and avoided the subject!


(photo credit)


About Shane Jones: A strong advocate for the power of personal, “humanized,” digital collaboration, I share my opinions and vast experience on social and digital marketing.  While advertising and branding is my expertise, my passion lies in blogging.  Outside of the business world I’m a marathon runner and an avid bucket lister trying to inspire more action and less talk, despite my propensity for gab. Find me on Google+

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