Hashtag Fail and How it can be Avoided

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.
— ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Recently, I wrote about what hashtags are and how they can be used. I also warned against potential backlash and how hashtags can be used against a company or organization. While hashtags can be a really fun way to engage fans, it can also turn into a disaster very quickly. Just this week, we got another example of a hashtag fail.

A well-intentioned tweet trying to unite the community with the NYPD turned into a huge hashtag fail, April 22, 2014

A well-intentioned tweet trying to unite the community with the NYPD turned into a huge hashtag fail, April 22, 2014

On April 22, a tweet from the NYPD official Twitter account encouraged tweeters to  tweet a photo with a member of the NYPD with the hashtag #myNYPD for a chance to be featured on the NYPD Facebook page. It’s probably safe to assume the public’s reaction was not at all what the NYPD expected. Instead of fun, friendly photos with officers, users shared hundreds of images of police brutality. (Click here to see what showed up)

While the original intent was probably to get more positive photos, NYPD Police Commissioner Bill Bratton welcomed all photos, good or bad in a statement April 23, 2014. “The reality of policing is often times are lawful, but they look awful,” he said. “And that’s the reality. As I looked at a lot of those photos, those officers engaged lawfully in their activities.”

Photos like this are probably more of what the NYPD social media team was expecting, source: NYPD Facebook page

Photos like this are probably more of what the NYPD social media team was expecting. Source: NYPD Facebook page

How to Avoid a Hashtag Fail

Think about the worst possible scenario. It’s sad, but it’s a reality. Oftentimes, people are much less filtered online and will quickly jump on a fail bandwagon.

  • Review previous interactions to get a feel for how users could respond to your hashtag
  • Check to see if the hashtag has been used before and in what context it was used
  • Search for the phrase online to see what comes up
  • Think about the absolute worst thing people could possibly post
  • Ask others who are familiar with hashtags what possible fails could come from the hashtag
  • When in doubt, just don’t do it

If there’s a good chance your hashtag could be taken in the wrong context or make you look bad, it may be best to just skip that hashtag campaign.

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