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How to Manage a #BashTag PR crisis

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Spindustry Digital in Des Moines, Iowa.

Hashtags are all the rage, especially on Twitter. Using a hashtag to categorize a tweet is a great way to help people search for and discover your content. But what happens when your hashtag gets hijacked? It's a very real concern, as McDonalds found out the hard way. It paid an agency to come up with the campaign #McDStories on Twitter. The only problem is, there were more bad stories than good. Hashtag fail

How do you know when using a hashtag is a good public relations move for your brand? Here are a few things to ponder before launching a #hashtag campaign.

  1. Make sure you have allies who are willing to support your position. In the case of McDonalds, it became clear very quickly that McDonalds had more detractors than supporters.
  2. Are you prepared to monitor and tweet 24 hours a day? Hashtag campaigns are like newborns - someone's gotta be watching and responding all day. If the person in charge stops tweeting at 4 p.m. on Friday, the detractors have all weekend to fill up the tweet stream with all kinds of shenanigans. I suggest pre-programming a full set of tweets to appear when you are not actively tweeting by using Hootsuite or a similar product.
  3. Are you prepared to own, manage and monitor the hashtag for YEARS? Once the campaign is created, a monster is born. Even if you eventually abandon the hashtag, your detractors may use it to bash you for an indefinite period of time.
  4. Make sure your "side" is bigger than their side. In the case of McDonalds or WalMart - the detractors seem to outnumber the supporters by a large margin. They are better organized and have more to say than the agency who created the hashtag.
  5. Do you own the domain name of your hashtag? It's a good idea to buy it and use it as a call to action. Don't launch the #hashtag campaign until the site is done because you'lll lose valuable interactions with both supporters and detractors. McDStories.com lays unclaimed, making it vulnerable to hijack by detractors.

Creating a hashtag is a bold move, but I've rarely seen it succeed in the intended way. Some of the most successful hashtag campaigns have been created around non-controversial issues. One great example is the #ThisSummer campaign, which allowed user to tweet their summer plans and have the tweet turned into a dramatic movie voiceover.

Be careful when creating hashtag campaigns - you may unleash unintended negative consequences for your brand.

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Comments

Great post, Claire.

Silver lining on those detractor comments: They may shed light on a product vulnerability, customer service issue or branding inconsistency of which company leaders were previously unaware. Often social "shenanigans" (love that word, BTW) are the result of consumers/customers/clients who don't feel heard.

I'd add that great hashtag campaigns have a response plan in place for dealing with the non-nutball detractors. Nutballs are on their own. :)

Love reading your stuff... keep it coming!
Kelly

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