When hashtags go wrong: The top 5 bashtag disasters

This year it was the NYPD, last year it was JP Morgan, before that it was McDonalds. Every year, at least one company’s PR campaign goes viral with a promotional hashtag that becomes hijacked and used as a ‚bashtag‘.

When it comes to promotional campaigns, social media managers just don’t seem to understand the dangers of hashtags.

bashtag (ˈbæʃˌtæɡ)
noun. a hashtaɡ that is used for critical and abusive comments

Collins dictionary

Here are five examples that prove you can’t control your hashtag.

1) #MyNYPD

The New York Police Department called on its Twitter followers to post photos of themselves with police officers.

Minutes later, the #MyNYPD tag was bombarded with countless pictures of police violence in New York.

It’s astonishing that the NYPD didn’t see this one coming.

2) #McDstories

The award for the biggest failure in the history of hashtag campaigns goes to McDonald’s for its McDstories campaign. Using the hashtag #McDstories, McDonald’s wanted its fans to tweet about positive experiences while eating at McDonald’s. But soon after the campaign launched, #McDstories was hijacked with tweets about food poisoning and diabetes.

Even though positive ‘stories’ largely outweighed the negative ones, the focus on hijacked tweets turned the McDstories into one of the most talked-about blunders in hashtag history.

3) #askJPM

You’d think following #McDstories, the social media managers at US bank JP Morgan & Chase would have learned a few lessons about social media risks. Lessons like: don’t start a hashtag campaign when your company has just paid $14 billion in fines and settlements for bad trading and loan practice. With timing that poor, it was clear that JPMorgan’s #askJPM campaign was headed for disaster.

Once the bank’s Twitter account posted a tweet inviting followers to ask a leading executive at the company for career advice, the spiteful questions came tumbling in.

As the New Yorker commented, “@jpmorgan’s Twitter star has risen—at least in terms of visibility.” Only 19 users retweeted the original #askJPM post, while 1,516 retweeted the follow-up post cancelling the event a week later. Even in social media marketing, bad PR is still PR.

4) #MuslimRage

In 2012, Newsweek launched a magazine cover with an all-caps headline MUSLIM RAGE, referring to their discussion of violence in the Muslim world. In an attempt to bring the debate to Twitter, Newsweek created the hashtag #MuslimRage.

However, Newsweek followers responded with their own interpretation of rage directed at everyday problems for Muslims:

Other readers quipped back with “Lost your kid Jihad at the airport. Can’t yell for him. #MuslimRage” and „i dont feel any rage….does that mean i am not muslim?”

5) #AreYouBetterOff

Eager to catch up on the Obama’s team’s effective use of social media in the 2012 election campaign, Mitt Romney’s team created the #areyoubetteroff hashtag to encourage US voters to think about whether they were better off under Obama. But even for a reported price of $120,000 a day for Twitter’s promoted hashtag service, the Romney campaign couldn’t buy its way into a successful social media presence.

To Romney’s question “are you better off now than you were four years ago?” three times as many Twitter users replied with ‘yes’ as ‘no’ according to Topsy.

Comedian Chris Rock also replied with his own answers:

„#AreYouBetterOff with Obama or the guy who made a fortune by intentionally bankrupting American companies? Take your time on this one.. #DNC“


„#AreYouBetterOff than you were four years ago? If not, then we should try taking rights away from women and dictating to women how to live.“

Feature image: Drawing of a bird holding a twitter hashtag for social media tag via Shutterstock / Copyright: lculig

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