When Hashtags Get Hijacked

What first began on Twitter, hashtags are found all across social media and used by users of all kinds. Many organizations create hashtag campaigns where users can see stories and user-generated content from others. They even make posts searchable by topics. This has become a fundamental tool in social media campaigns. But what happens when your hashtag gets hijacked and suddenly your campaign goes awry? This new trend of social media hijacking has the potential to take a campaign from successful to crisis.


#McDStories. McDonald’s attempted to find all the feel good stories their customers had. Instead, they ended up with a horror story on their feed. The Twitter campaign was almost immediately hijacked with customers talking about poor food quality and bashing their labor standards. McDonald’s quickly pulled the hashtag before further damage occurred.

Another social media hijacking attempt by fans happened by covering entertainment pages in LGBTQ call outs. Fans called out television shows like #OITNB (Orange is the New Black) using the hashtag #PousseyDeservedBetter to show their contempt for how a character exited the show. The fans came together to create a narrative asking for LGBTQ characters in their entertainment and calling for equal treatment of those characters. To create this social media hijacking, LGBTQ communities circulated the information ahead of time over several different social media platforms to generate buzz. Pre-planning the hijack, led the hashtag to trend creating high visibility on Twitter.


A Hashtag done right can make it easier for consumers to identify your brand, connect consumers with your organization, and even provide a way to collect data. See some of the top hashtag campaigns of 2018 here.


IHOP blew everyone’s social media minds in 2018 by suggesting they were changing their name to IHOB. Panic ensued as the nation tried to wrap their heads around the International House of Pancakes switching to burgers. Where would people even eat breakfast at now? Eventually, IHOP dropped the other shoe and told everyone it was only a marketing ploy to create buzz about their new line of burgers. This was one of the best marketing strategies. Not only did it create an enormous amount of conversation, but they even got other companies in on the action.


Finding the right hashtag for your business or campaign can take some time, but it is well worth the research. Today, hashtags are even trademarked by a company, limiting their use from other companies. It is never a bad idea to consult with your legal team, if you have one, to keep from opening your organization up to litigation or reputational backlash.

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