There’s no doubt that hashtags are a major player in viral marketing and when used correctly, they can help gain huge momentum for a marketing campaign. You don’t have to look much further than #SFBatkid – a cancer fighter whose participation in an exciting, pre-planned Batman vs. Villains event proved so captivating that even President Obama became involved. The result for Make-A-Wish foundation was a phenomenal 1,800 hits per second on their websites.

But things don’t always go that way. For every tremendous win like that, there’s more than enough fails that you can #lol about. Luckily, they even have their own hashtag which makes them more than easy to discover: #FAIL.

#Smoke and #Clouds.

American Apparel were widely criticized for their irresponsible use of these tweets when they posted an image of the Challenger space shuttle explosion that killed 7 astronauts to their Tumblr account. They had mistaken the explosion for 4th of July fireworks.


Ventra, the producers of transit fare cards for Chicago Transit Authority made the typical mistake that most self-absorbed companies do when they have failed to understand their market, and came under a lot of criticism when they became in a Twitter Q&A with the #AskVentra hashtag. They expected questions – they got abuse.


That’s right. Someone actually came up with that without noticing what permutations it had. Ever play one of those “what’s the first word you see?” games?

Unfortunately, this was the PR team for Susan Boyle – who had just shot from obscurity a worldwide phenomenon courtesy of the X Factor. The tweet was deleted, but as US Airways found when they tweeted porn back to a follower, deleting a tweet, even within the hour, is never done quickly enough!


Another in a line of companies who make it worth pulling up a chair and grabbing the popcorn. McD’s went looking for stories from their customers to reinforce their fun image.

My favourite response was from @e_olsen who tweeted: And by “pride” do you mean “eyeballs and ammonia”? Yeah, people can taste it, all Right #McDStories


By now you’d think lack of self-awareness should be a crime, but when the NYPD came up with this hashtag, they had no idea it was about to trend so much it got featured on CNN – accompanied by a lot of images of alleged police brutality.

Lessons Learned

The golden takeaway from all this is that it doesn’t matter who invents a hashtag – it’s those who exist in the Twitterverse who control how it’s used. If you’re even slightly at risk of bad feeling from your market, it’s best you avoid hashtags completely!

Hashtag Horrors
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