11 May 2015

When Hashtags Attack

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In the world of social media one of the strongest tools available to get your message to the audience actually searching for it are, hashtags.

Seemingly innocuous, hashtags take time and attention to ensure they reach the biggest possible audience.

Hashtags came of age during the early days of Twitter, and are now found on basically every available social media platform.

While coming up with a hashtag is simple, the consequences of getting it wrong, and having your hashtag hijacked by social media users can be disastrous.

We’ve all seen it happen, a hashtag designed to start a conversation or position a brand gets hijacked by social media users, leading the company neck deep into an out of control PR disaster.

Below are three examples of when hashtags attacked. 


It’s hard to come up with a more recent example of an absolute social media fail than the Fresh In Our Memories campaign by Australian Supermarket Chain Woolworths.

In the lead up to the Centenary of the ANZAC landing at ANZAC Cove, the company found itself in an absolute social media disaster as social media users let it know in no uncertain terms exactly what they thought of tying the legacy of the ANZAC’s to the Woolworths “Fresh Food People” brand.

The supermarket giant while quick to issue an apology and remove the meme generator from their website, they were not quick enough to prevent the social media fallout. 


In October 2011, QANTAS made the decision to ground it's fleet due to on-going industrial action. Leaving tens of thousands of travellers stranded all over the world was a PR issue in and off itself, however launching a competition the following day to have members of the public tweet the airline their stories of #qantasluxury opened the flood gates.

Thousands of twitter users took to social media to vent about being stranded in airports, left with no information and unable to get home. While the QANTAS luxury social media debacle took place almost 4 years ago, the hashtag has taken on a life of it's own, still used today when customers have a reason to complain about the company. 


Political brands are at just as much risk as organisational brands when it comes to social media users hijacking promotional hashtags. On the eve of the UK General Election, Nigel Farage, then leader of the UKIP launched a hashtag to encourage the people voting for UKIP to tell social media why they were voting.

The hashtag was quickly hijacked by those who didn't like the UKIP's main policy objectives throughout the election and quickly went south.

The main take away from these situations for social media executives is when creating a hashtag for your event or brand, the importance of being aware of your social media audience cannot be underestimated.

Mike Cullen has recently returned to Akolade after a period as the conference producer for one of Australia's leading economic think tanks. Mike began working in the conference industry in 2007 after looking for a career change from the high pressured world of inbound customer service. Mike has worked for some of the most well known conference and media companies in the B2B space and in his spare time is working on his first novel in a planned Epic Fantasy trilogy.

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