hashtag-fails

1. Coca Cola #MakeItHappy

Coca Cola's social media marketers came up with a cute idea. Add #MakeItHappy to a negative tweet and Coca Cola's Twitter bot will pick it up and use the message's characters to create a cute ASCII art image.

Sounds awesome and cuddly -- until your company suddenly is posting ASCII art made from quotes from Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf":

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Launched during the Super Bowl on February 1, the campaign ran for 3 days, all the while cutely decorating "Mein Kampf" quotes. The Twitter marketing bot was finally stopped on Wednesday, February 3.

Unlike other Twitter marketing fails this public relations disaster wasn't the work of the public at large but of an Internet troll, this time in the shape of the popular web site Gawker. Gawker had discovered the campaign and for reasons unknown decided to experiment with how far the Coca Cola bot would go.

Coca Cola issued a statement:

"The #MakeItHappy message is simple: The Internet is what we make it, and we hoped to inspire people to make it a more positive place. It's unfortunate that Gawker is trying to turn this campaign into something that it isn't. Building a bot that attempts to spread hate through #MakeItHappy is a perfect example of the pervasive online negativity Coca-Cola wanted to address with this campaign."

2. NYPD's #myNYPD Bashtag

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The idea was cute. It always is.

Ask members of the public to post there selfies with New York police officers, tag them with #myNYPD, and sing "Kumbayah" together. OK, that last part maybe not.

The response was overwhelming -- overwhelmingly bad. Soon the hashtag was used as a bashtag.

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3. McDonald's, Eat Your Heart Out

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We've all been there; at McDonald's. The shake you shared with friends. Your kid's first Happy Meal. Maybe you fell in love with the guy at the fryer or the girl at the counter.

That was the kind of stuff McDonald's social marketing consultants had in mind when they launched a campaign around the #McDStories hashtag.

They didn't plan for this though.

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To this day the hashtag is regularly used as a bashtag.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs' #SEAofBLUE

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When you combine social media marketing with the illusion of free crowd-sourced content in the form of UGC (User Generated Content) you get a bang! of an idea like posting a Twitter hashtag campaign unfiltered straight onto your own website's home page.

Can you spell O.M.G.?

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5. J.P. Morgan #AskJPM

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Based on Reddit's popular AMA (Ask Me Anything) the idea seemed super simple: open up Twitter to ask investment banker Jimmy Lee anything.

Anything?

Anything.

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Even before the next day's #AskJPM was up, JP Morgan cancelled the session

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But as McDonald's has learned, you can't pull the plug on a public hashtag campaign . To this day the #AskJPM hashtag is used as a bashtag.

6. Walgreens Buys "Love" With #ILoveWalgreens

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When Walgreens started a battle with prescription insurer Express Scripts they thought to bring in the Twitter troops.

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Unsure they would get the love they deserved Walgreens decided to prime the pump by paying Twitter $120,000 to make the #ILoveWalgreens hashtag a promoted trend.

Not long after they might have wanted to pay to make it disappear.

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7. Republican National Committee Asks #AreYouBetterOff

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"NO!", they hoped for.

"Erm... YES!", is what they got.

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The Lessons

Getting active social media marketing right is extremely difficult as-is.

But time and time again we see two factors that virtually guarantee disaster:

  1. Unmonitored, total automationIt's OK to automate things. It's smart, it's efficient. But when you have a set-it-and-forget-it mentality to your social media marketing you can find yourself answering or retweeting some horribly offensive things you normally would never say.Lesson learned: use time delays so people can monitor what goes on.
  2. Failure to recognize you're not in controlWhatever your idea, once you throw it out there it's out there -- out of your control. People can run with your hashtag and add it to the most horrendous statements or rudest images. It's the equivalent of handing out permanent markers to perfect strangers and giving them free reign to write on anything and anyone in your offie.Lesson learned: plan your strategies for when (not if....) your campaign is used differently than you hoped for.

Not minding these lessons, or winging it, comes with its own risk as these social media marketing campaigns learned the hard way.