Hashtag Marketing: 9 Ways to Avert Disaster (Mashable)

Marketers creating campaigns centered on hashtags need to be cautious. Hashtags can easily turn into flashing targets that scream, “Hijack this brand!” In the past few weeks, McDonald’s launched a hashtag campaign that was promptly hamburgled, and then Research In Motion’s #BeBold campaign was similarly brandjacked.

Fortunately, there’s a way to avoid these types of situations. Hashtag campaigns happen all the time without any press coverage, usually because there’s no horror story. Here are nine ways to prevent your brand from winding up in a story about social media mishaps.


1. Figure Out Why You’re Using Hashtag

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Brands tend to use hashtags, predominantly on Twitter and sometimes other services like Instagram, either to create a centralized discussion around their campaign or event, or to jump into conversations that are already happening. Assess what you want to get out of the hashtag before diving in.


2. Be Upfront About the Risk

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No matter how good your intentions are and how well you execute the campaign, hashtags can get hijacked in unexpected ways. Make sure any relevant brand managers, agency account executives, and other relevant parties are aware of what can happen, and share some real examples like those noted above. Also be clear that brands use hashtags in campaigns every day, and there are very few that generate any negative publicity.


3. Determine What Kind of Hashtag Makes Sense for Your Goals

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Branded hashtags like #McDstories are very transparent and often descriptive, but they might turn off people who don’t want to include that brand in their messages. They also can give brand haters more motivation to upend the hashtag’s meaning.

Generic hashtags like RIM’s #BeBold have more creative potential both for the brand and for consumers, but the hashtags can be brand-jacked just as easily, especially if the brand isn’t perceived as a match for the tag. Either way, the hashtag should be informative and concise rather than conceptual. You only have a few characters; make them count, and don’t make consumers think too hard.

4. Be True to Your Brand

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Jeff Bezos once said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” What do people really say about your brand? If you’re a fast food burger chain, having salad on the menu wouldn’t justify a #BeHealthy campaign. Airlines shouldn’t try using #ComfortingThoughts unless their coach seats are really more comfortable than a typical passenger’s living room sofa.


5. Think of the Worst-Case Hijacking Scenario

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Then share it with some of your snarky and cynical colleagues. Does it hold up? Would more conservative brand managers be comfortable with it? If it’s too easy to hijack and the brand bashing is too harsh, this is a good time to come up with other ideas.


6. Avoid Piggybacking on Humorous or Risqué Hashtags

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Very few brands can credibly contribute to conversations around tags like “#ThingsWomenWant” or “#WorstMondayEver.”


7. Have Your Crisis Plan Ready, With Key Members on Speed Dial

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No matter how cautious you think you are, people can be pleasantly unpredictable, even if that can create the occasional unpleasant experience for brands. Make sure it’s absolutely clear what everyone’s roles are should an unfortunate event happen.


8. Monitor the Campaign Religiously

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It should also be clear upfront when determining everyone’s roles and responsibilities. When creating an original hashtag that hasn’t been used before, hashtags can simplify reporting on buzz generated, as community managers and analysts can view all relevant tweets in one shot.


9. Spring Into Action

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If you wind up in a snafu, be ready to do whatever you can to stop the bleeding, such as ceasing any media support, engaging consumers to steer the conversation back to the original idea, or perhaps taking it on the chin and acknowledging when consumers are right. McDonald’s realized, for instance, that by pulling its Twitter ad, negative comments using the hashtag stopped almost immediately.

Brands shouldn’t overreact to the potential downfall of using hashtags, but marketers need to accept that there will always be a risk when using them. Many more marketers will choose to accept that risk. Twitter’s only growing, and hashtags are a fundamental element of Instagram, Tumblr, and other services. Brands can learn from their peers who tried to #BeBold before them, some more successfully than others.

Read the entire article at http://mashable.com/2012/02/14/hashtag-marketing-disaster-tips/.

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