Gary Vaynerchuk keeps it real in his article explaining that although brands would love to own any hashtag they come up with, well, good luck with that. As we are all well aware of by now a hashtag is public domain. You as a social media director or marketing director or lone individual may come up with the most clever and exciting hashtag you have ever thought of, but you do not own it. People who discover and evolve the hashtag and use it in the conversation are the owners. All the brand or person that began the hashtag are able to do is hold out hope that the hashtag is used in a positive way or that you have the foresight to play along if the hashtag veers off track.
Every day, I walk into brand meetings where people will say things like “Let’s own the #GetEm hashtag.” My usual response is: what the hell are you talking about?
Vaynerchuk highlights the time when Skittles tried on Twitter to allow those that tweeted using the #Skittles hashtag to be fed directly onto the Skittles homepage which was turned into a pseudo Twitter page. It did not go as well as the brand imagined, but Skittles being a brand that uses humor and strange advertising kind of embraced what occurred. They decided to put up a popup on the page that informed users of their page that they were not responsible for all postings…
One of the worst incidents of a brand trying to drum up good will using a hashtag happened to McDonald’s using the hashtag #McDStories. The public decided to tell McDonald’s stories alright, just not the ones McDonald’s had planned on hearing. Mashable wrote about the failed campaign and created a quick video that told the story of the experiment.
What ensued was less laudatory. “I haven’t been to McDonald’s in years, because I’d rather eat my own diarrhea,” read one. “One time I walked into McDonald’s and I could smell Type 2 diabetes floating in the air and I threw up,” said another.
Technology has allowed the audience to react at light speed and brands need to pay attention so things don’t get out of hand. McDonald’s social media director Rick Wion was and had this to say,
“Within an hour, we saw that it wasn’t going as planned,” said Wion. “It was negative enough that we set about a change of course.”
The lessons learned of dipping a toe into the risky business of using a hashtag are:
- Plan ahead in case what you envisioned doesn’t unfold
- Never take yourself or your hashtag too seriously
- Monitor your feeds
- You don’t own #ISH