When a Hashtag Becomes a Bashtag

When a Hashtag Becomes a Bashtag

Last week we talked about McDonald’s coming under fire during a hashtag promotion gone wrong.  The #McDStories hashtag fiasco wasn’t the first time a well-meaning promotion was hijacked and turned into humiliation, and it certainly won’t be the last.  Shortly after #McDStories went awry, Blackberry parent company RIM experienced the same embarrassment when their #BeBold promotion became a joke in the Twitterverse.

How do seemingly great ideas turn into disasters?  Although it can happen quickly, companies should not be afraid to host promotions on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.  A bit of due diligence and planning can go a long way.  Here are a few tips for preventing (and recovering from unforeseen) bashtag disasters:

First and foremost, consider your audience.  It never ceases to amaze me how some of the most brilliant marketing teams continue to come up with promotions that make them the laughingstock of the social space.  If you’re a fast food company, don’t try to tell people how wholesome your product is.  People don’t like having their intelligence insulted, so stick to common sense.  If you’re working to change your image, tell people why, don’t open yourself up to ridicule with an easily twisted meme.

Once you’ve come up with a great idea, brainstorm some ideas about how the idea could be misconstrued or twisted.  If you can’t think of any, find a few teenagers or kids and ask them to pick it apart.  The most juvenile retorts are likely the ones that will come to mind for a large part of your audience.  Don’t overlook them.

Utilize social media for research.  What is the perception of your brand?  How can you play off of that to get people talking about your company in a positive light?  Don’t be afraid to poke a little fun at yourself, it will make you seem more human to your audience and therefore, more likable.  Be sure to make industry-appropriate commentary, however.  Joking about geekiness with your tech-based audience is fun, calling the same group antisocial dorks is not.

If you make a mistake, take the opportunity to turn it into a win.  If people are using your promotion as a chance to complain, listen to what they have to say and respond.  Let them know that you hear them, and that you’re willing to make changes to provide better service to your customers.  Laugh at yourself a little, and turn the situation around.

Have a backup plan.  If you have a situation that goes south, be ready to handle it quickly. If you must, pull the promotion to minimize damage.  If you do pull a promotion, be ready to explain why, or you may have more talk about the mysterious disappearance of your campaign than you did about the original problem.  When dealing with a real live audience, you never know where things will go.  Being prepared to be candid with your customers and having a sense of humor will often get you much farther than tight-lipped silence.  Remember, the goal is to connect with your audience.  Listen to what they have to say, you may learn something about yourself and your business in the process 🙂

What is your favorite hashtag?

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