Bashtags: When Hashtagging Goes Wrong
Some organizations should just stay away from Twitter. The Internet has a tendency to bring out the troll in people, and social media offers these opportunists the perfect platform. Of all social platforms, Twitter is the most dangerous because the person creating the conversation cannot curate it. Once you start a conversation, the rest of Twitter can very easily hijack that conversation. Recently, McDonalds and the NYPD found out this lesson the hard way with predictably hilarious results.
McDonald’s had the genius idea to create a hashtag that would allow people to share their experiences at the store. I assume the idea was to find heartwarming stories about people’s trips to the golden arches with grandpa or something alone those lines. What they got instead was a barrage of tweets highlighting the heart clogging characteristics of their food and some rather remarkable occurances at their stores (unfortunately not the sorts of occurrences a fortune 500 company wants to promote). McDonald’s even paid to promote the hashtag, but after two hours they pulled the plug releasing their error. Unfortunately for them the hashtag lives on in infamy as a shining example of their dangers of trying to create conversations on Twitter without fully considering the consequences of asking millions of people to publicly proclaim what they think of your store.
Apparently the NYPD did not get the memo about controversial organizations attempting to brand themselves on Twitter with user generated content. The NYPD started #MyNYPD to give the citizens of New York the opportunity to talk about all the great things that the NYPD does. This idea might have worked shortly after 9/11 but that day has passed. What they got was a stream of tweets highlighting examples of police brutality with the occasional snarky tweet thrown in for good measure.
The Difference Between Twitter & Facebook
Twitter is a great platform for brands and organizations to get their message out and engage their audience; however, Twitter does not offer any control over the conversation. Anyone can @mention your organization, and there is no such thing as ownership of a hashtag – there is no off switch. You can disengage in the conversation, but the conversation that you started can continue without your presence. Facebook grants page owners the ability to control the conversation through deleting or editing comments or in dire circumstances turning off commenting altogether. While deleting negative comments is certainly seen as bad form, it can still be used as a last resort when a social campaign blows up in your face.
Why Brands Use Twitter
Although Twitter has around 20% of the users that Facebook has, it seems to be the channel that gets the most love from brandson TV. Brands want to be a part of Twitter because it feels more cutting edge than Facebook and hashtags are a cool looking thing to have at the end of a commercial, at least much more so than a URL for a Facebook page. Facebook is constantly ratcheting down the reach that brands have with their audience in an attempt to monetize that transaction while on twitter general changes much less often.
Bashtags: The Lesson
If you are an organization that invites controversy in some way you should probably not promote yourself through hashtags on Twitter. It is fine to use Twitter to engage but to try and create a conversation is playing with fire. There is a reason that companies like Wal-Mart is not using Hashtags to highlight its happy workers and Bank of America trying people to talk about how great of bank they are. Although some companies will never learn; just #askjpm who thought it was a good idea to have a Twitter chat with a senior executive.