#Hijacked! Why hashtag-led online PR campaigns on Twitter are a dangerous game

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In the face of yet another social media marketing hashtag gaffe on Twitter, this time by a leading fast food restaurant, ClickThrough Marketing online copywriter Martin Boonham can’t help but smile slyly. Here, Martin warns that social media marketing could make you look a right twit…

Twitter followers of a certain fast food chain were left scratching their heads the other day, when their beloved eatery declared it had sold itself to a competitor because, it claimed: “The Whopper had flopped.”

Of course, it soon transpired that the claims were somewhat unsubstantiated.

Burger King – the chain in question - had simply found itself the unwanted victim of hacking on its Twitter account. Unfortunately for the fast food giant, this then resulted in a series of tweets and retweets full of abusive language, racial slurs and drug references.

Burger King was not the only big name to fall foul of a Twitter blunder recently however, oh no.

Cadburys launched its #CremeEggPortraits hashtag to encourage people to be more creative with their chocolate egg this Easter – and upload photos of them enjoying a Crème Egg in an unusual way to Twitter. I’m sure they didn’t expect anyone to take naked snaps of themselves with a Crème Egg stuffed into, let’s say, a compromising position, and share it with the Twitterverse.

But that’s what happened, followed by lots of reactionary Tweets simply saying “Oh dear.”

Of course, these guys aren’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last, to make a bit of a twit of themselves in the Twitter department… I’m pretty sure I tried asking out Cheryl Cole once.

With that confession out the way, here are some more classic online PR blunders from Twitter:

Starbucks - #SpreadTheCheer

Last Christmas, Starbucks launched the #SpreadTheCheer campaign, and the little coffee elves waited eagerly for the world to respond in kind, hoping to find a Christmassy social media stocking overflowing with goodwill and festive cheer.

Only, it wasn’t.

When Starbucks returned to its Twitter feed, it did not find the gift of sharing. There was no happiness, no reason for hope and merriment, no smiling faces.

Instead, Starbucks received the social media equivalent of a lump of coal.

Hijackers had leapt all over the #SpreadTheCheer hashtag - and vented their frustration at Starbucks’ previously errant UK tax practices.

Starbucks probably should’ve seen it coming: it was already on the naughty list, and the #SpreadTheCheer campaign was launched whilst the ink was still drying.

However, this was all made a bit worse, as Starbucks allowed its Twitter feed from the #SpreadTheCheer campaign to broadcast live on a large promotional screen at the Natural History Museum.

So, cue the inevitable influx of anti-Starbucks tweets calling the coffee chain swearwords, and urging people to buy coffee somewhere else where the tax literally drips off their latte – which all appeared on Starbucks’ own Twitter feed. Oh, and that massive TV in the Natural History Museum.

Waitrose - #WaitroseReasons

Waitrose made a bit of a gaffe itself on its #WaitroseReasons hashtag, which urged customers to declare the reasons they thought Waitrose was a cut above its competitors.

Ensuing tweets included comments such as “I shop at Waitrose as Clarissa’s pony just will not eat Asda value straw”.

The firm actually used the replies as a way of turning the ‘posh’ image of the store on its head, with the Waitrose PR team claiming it thoroughly enjoyed the vast majority of the tweets.

Susan Boyle – #Susanalbumparty

Only a few of months ago, Susan Boyle marked her new album launch with a Twitter hashtag party on #Susanalbumparty – her PR people quickly moving to change the hashtag to #SusanBoylesAlbumParty for some inexplicable reason.

Qantas - #QantasLuxury

Looking back a little further, in November 2011, Qantas airline decided to launch a Twitter campaign discussing #QantasLuxury – just a day after union talks broke down and its entire fleet was grounded.

In summary

Social media can be a great tool for grabbing people’s attention.

The trouble is, it also seems to encourage people to lose all sense of inhibition and do daft things: and in that respect, it’s a bit like karaoke.

Luckily, most of us will never be such an obvious target for the almost-inevitable wave of abuse that social media platforms can leave one open to.

Certainly, firms shouldn’t look at the plight of others and nervously titter to themselves whilst quickly rewording their latest campaign on product X that they’ve now noticed can quickly be twisted to sound like rude thing Y.

Social media presents a great way to connect to your customers after all, and with more and more of them using social media on their smartphones – it provides a way to entice them to your site which you normally wouldn’t have.

And if it does go wrong, take the Waitrose approach, and turn what could have been classed as a bit of bad PR and spin it into something that reflects well by showing that your firm is actually human, not just a money making machine. That way, you will stand more chance of winning people over.

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