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Hashtags: Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should

AT&T 9/11How many social media blogs did you read today that were about AT&T’s twitter faux pas yesterday? A ton I bet (982,000). Well, not this one. We know they screwed up, who cares. So did a lot of other brands. In fact, I could put together an entire slide deck of brands who have put out tweets in poor taste over time, and yesterday is not the first time it has happened. From Hurricane Sandy to the Aurora shooting in Colorado, brands are continuing to jump on the hashtag bandwagon and destroy their credibility and lose fans in the process.

Over-exposed.  These days,  hashtags are everywhere. They are on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram and Pinterest. The whole world now knows how to tag their content and find relevant articles. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Jumping on the hashtag bandwagon can be smart, like Oreo’s blackout tweet during the Super Bowl blackout; or how PBS jumped on the Big Bird comment during the Presidential debate. But so many times have we seen brands and companies act impulsively and jump on the hashtag bandwagon only to moments later have to delete their tweet and apologize. 

Is it worth it? Yesterday, some people were annoyed by all of the 9/11 tributes, like Andrew Beaujon, who wrote an article “Never forget: The Internet is the wrong place for your 9/11 tributes“. Yet, government and businesses alike mostly jumped in on the tribute with videos, animated gifs, memes, tweaked photographs, and plain text.  It seems that when a hashtag is trending, businesses blindly look at it as an opportunity for mass exposure, when in fact, nine times out of ten,  it’s more like a recipe for disaster.

  • Some social media faux pas are made because brands schedule a post or tweet with/out a hashtag and then no one bothers to read the news. (#Sandy)
  • Others fail because they hop on the trending hashtag and want to seem relevant, and instead they seem ignorant, insensitive, or plain stupid. (#neverforget)
  • Some just aren’t thought through the possible repercussions. (#McDStories)

Social paparazzi. If you personally tweet something by mistake and then delete it, chances are it won’t be news worthy. The most that might happen to you is that you make some marketer’s PowerPoint presentation. But if you’re a brand, you can forget it. Because somewhere on FourSquare, lurking in the bushes on Twitter or Facebook, some news media outlet or would be “journalist” captured your tweet or post. It’s no different than being a starlet in Hollywood and having your every move documented by the paparazzi. There are marketer paparazzi just waiting to break the big story of you failing because in social media it’s all about breaking the story first.

So the next time you see a trending hashtag that looks like a good idea, think twice before you post something. And with big holidays or remembrances like 9/11, it’s like Christmas, it happens every year and it’s not like you didn’t know this day was coming, so plan out your content calendar accordingly and then have it reviewed.

Your thoughts?

Oh, and if you’re not convinced that hashtags are over used, then watch this hilarious video from Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon.

Now what do you think?

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About Tracy Sestili

Tracy Sestili is CEO and Chief blogger at Social Strand Media. She is also the author of Taking Your Brand from the Bench to the Playing Field -- Social Media Fundamentals for Business.

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