Brands regularly attempt to capitalize on the traffic and exposure of trending topics by “hashtag surfing” (adding a popular #hashtag to their promoted tweets or Facebook page status updates.) Unfortunately, this tactic also regularly backfires.
While they were first designed to provide the capability of quickly searching terms and to give users the ability to link trending information, hashtags have evolved into much more than that and savvy marketers have been quick to jump on the bandwagon.
When it comes to marketing, the real issue is that marketers sometimes can’t seem to tell the difference between when it’s a good idea to use a popular hashtag and when it is best left alone.
In some instances, the consequences to improper hashtag surfing could be relatively minor, but in other instances, it could result in significant complications, as some brands have discovered the hard way.
When It Doesn’t Work
First, let’s take a look at situations in which hashtag surfing simply does not work.
Perhaps the biggest problem that marketers encounter is when they do not take the time to do their research and understand what a hashtag is about before they use it.
This can quickly result in jumping on a hashtag with an inappropriate response.
Such practices landed both DiGiorno and Entemann’s in trouble.
DiGiorno received a backlash when they tried to cash in on the #WhyIStayed hashtag (a trending topic related to domestic violence awareness) with the response “You Had Pizza.”
In an earlier fail, Entenmann’s landed themselves in hot water during the Casey Anthony trial by including the #notguilty hashtag in their message promoting snack cakes.
It can be tempting for brands to attempt to leverage the traffic received by a trending hashtag, but unless you can really relate your brand to the hashtag, it’s best to avoid it.
When It Works
While there are numerous ways in which hashtag surfing can go wrong, it can also occasionally go right.
The key is to make sure that you ask these questions first:
- What is the context of the hashtag? (is it a politically or socially controversial issue?)
- Is the hashtag relevant to your brand?
- Can you contribute to the conversation in a meaningful – or at least appropriately humorous – way?
If you have done your research on a trending topic and answered those questions, then adding it to your next tweet or status update might be okay.
Despite their #WhyIStayed debacle, DiGiorno Pizza actually hit a home run when they took advantage of NBC’s airing of “The Sound of Music Live”
Not only did DiGiorno successfully link their brand to an event that was garnering a tremendous amount of attention, but they were also lauded for their creativity and humor. At the same time, they managed to garner online visibility and media coverage for their own brand.