3 ways to avoid a hashtag PR debacle

McDonald’s saw another hashtag campaign—this one around #Shamrocking—hijacked by Twitter users. Here’s how you can avoid such fate.

If at first you don’t succeed in your Twitter hashtag campaign, try again. That seems to be the philosophy of McDonald’s social media team.

After the #McDstories hashtag was hijacked a few weeks ago, the fast food giant is at it again. This time, they’re trying to capitalize on the “Tebowing” phenomenon by highlighting people who are super excited about their Shamrock Shake (see #Shamrocking).

The problem is that people haven’t forgotten #McDstories, and as Adweek points out:

“Clearly, the word #Shamrocking has great potential for being misused—and apparently already has one truly unsavory existing meaning. And let’s face it—McDonald’s is always going to suffer a certain amount of abuse whenever it tries to engage the public in social media.”

When will brands learn that hashtag campaigns seldom work. Even so, if you’re determined to subject your brand to one, here are a few tips.

1. Try making fun of it in-house first. If you can find a way to flip the hashtag on its tail, chances are your audience will do it with more fervor and snark than you can even imagine.

2. Listen to your audience. A simple search would have revealed to the McDonald’s team that people were already talking about the Shamrock Shake very enthusiastically using—get this—the #ShamrockShake hashtag. A smarter, more strategic move would have been to leverage the pre-existing hashtag.

3. As yourself this question: What’s the value of this? If the answer to that is, “We want people to talk about this specific aspect or our business/brand/product,” there may be a better way to do it. Hashtags are best used when they happen organically. When a brand tries to force people to talk about their product or use their product a certain way, it often ends poorly.

Remember this: when it comes to social media, as much as you want to dictate the conversation around your brand, you don’t get to make those choices. Think of it like a Fourth of July party. If you want everyone to go outside and watch the fireworks, make sure there’s not a spontaneous mud wrestling event happening in your living room first. (I’ve hosted some interesting Fourth of July parties.)

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