Why It Matters by Brendan Smith
As brands seek creative ways to increase engagement on social media channels, it is easy to overlook the dangers that lie in the details. Poorly worded or timed Twitter hashtags, for example, derailed numerous communications campaigns in 2012. It is especially important for brands that need to communicate about or around controversial issues to thoroughly think through the scenarios in which critics may attempt to commandeer company messaging.
The following are five questions to kick off a risk analysis of a proposed brand-led Twitter hashtag.
1. Does the hashtag invite users to participate?
“No” is the lower risk answer. If language states or implies that a user should join a conversation, pass a message or share an experience, the hashtag can become an easy target. For example, when McDonald’s attempted to kindle feel-good memories with #McDStories, droves of Twitter users took the opportunity to share less than flattering experiences involving the restaurant. Let adoption of the hashtag be organic rather than company suggested or endorsed. This way, responses likely will focus more on the target topic than the brand.
2. Will the hashtag be announced?
“No” is the lower risk answer. Providing details ahead of time – something that hosting a Twitter chat would require (and cause it to have higher risk) – gives opposition time to rally protestors online and offline. While it is not the goal to silence contrasting voices, it makes sense for the brand to communicate in a space where its voice can be heard alongside others.
3. Does the hashtag have a supportive network?
“Yes” is the lower risk answer. If the company’s stance has significant support from active publics or strategic partners, these voices can provide a needed buffer against potential negative attacks. In addition, if the campaign is being run during a large event or day of recognition, the volume of conversation on Twitter about the target topic may naturally be large enough to dilute any detractors’ attempts to dominate the hashtag thread.
4. Is the hashtag confrontational?
“No” is the lower risk answer. Try to read the hashtag as a passionate person with an opposing viewpoint. Hashtags, like slogans, can be distinctive cries that stimulate love or hate. Avoid language that inspires retaliation.
5. Will the hashtag receive external exposure?
“No” is the lower risk answer. If tweets are going to appear on a giant screen at an event or stream on a third-party website, there is added incentive for misbehavior. Remember that filters can malfunction. Out-of-platform coverage can increase the embarrassment factor and gain the attention of mainstream media. Be cautious, too, of advertising the hashtag in printed material.
In addition to answering these and other questions, rate potential outcomes, prepare a response strategy and calculate the brand’s ability to absorb negative publicity. Note that a hashtag thread can exist in relative isolation from the engagement that happens directly with company tweets.
Can hashtag hijacking cause long-term trouble for a brand’s reputation or image? When might it make sense for a brand to run a hashtag with a level of high-risk?
Hash sign image courtesy of Bigstock.