Thwarting the Hashtag Pirates

Hashtags, what a magnificently simple way to link together content in the noisy world which is Twitter. But what can you do if your skilfully created hashtag associated with an in-depth campaign is hijacked by some naughty scallywags intent on spreading mischief and mayhem?

McDonalds have been in the press this week after their #McDonaldsStories tag was picked up by users to spread their horror story experiences at the restaurant chain. McDonalds, a company not without its fair share of detractors, was perhaps a little naive to think that members of the social audience wouldn’t jump on this opportunity to pan the brand. Sticking with its first hashtag #MeetTheFarmers may have been a better idea.

This week, one of our brand-related hashtags started being associated with some rather unsavoury content – perhaps not intentionally by the specific Twitter users involved – but it’s not something we want our B2B audience to be associating with our Olympics content. So, we’ve taken the decision to change the hashtag part way through the campaign.

Fortunately it’s still early in the campaign and we don’t have much of our own content associated with the original tag, so it was a fairly easy decision to take. If it had been later in the campaign we would have had to weigh up exactly how damaging the rogue tweets would have been within a sea of our brand-related tweets.

Hashtags can also attract the spammers, people who’ll jump on your popular hashtag to promote their own products or services – this is something you’ll see a lot around exhibitions and big public events. And yes, it’s very temping, and yes, it gets your message and brand seen; however social media is like real life, no one likes people who don’t play by the rules and try to push themselves to the front of the queue. In other words, this is massively damaging to the spammer brand, so just don’t do it. But the good news is, this kind of behaviour is less damaging to your hashtag – at least it means you’re popular – and Twitter users generally ignore these messages.

The key takeaways from this are to firstly check whether the hash tag you want to use is being associated with anything else, then try to make it as non-generic as possible to try and avoid anyone else thinking of it half way through your campaign, choose a tag which is closely aligned with your product so it’s easy for users to identify as being linked with you, and finally, if you’ve got a lot of disgruntled customers out there, don’t invite them to #telltheirstories.