Twitter Disasters: 4 Hijacked Hashtags Gone Horribly Wrong



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There’s no doubt that social media platforms like Twitter has changed the world. Now, the world in which we live in is smaller than ever as politicians, Hollywood stars, businesses and “common” people are literally just a tweet away from each other. With 50% of adults owning smart phones and the ubiquity of Twitter’s hashtags, it makes sense that 87% of businesses have positions in communication management on their staff to address consumers’ questions and concerns. You might even be able to start up a conversation with the POTUS, or your favorite star:

 People can be so mean.

One of the most valuable features of the hashtag is its ability to group tweets by hashtag. This can connect people who aren’t talking to each other with people who are talking about the same things. This of course can be used as a marketing tool to get people talking about your brand, as many companies have tried to varying success. There are those who take the publicity that hashtags offer as the perfect opportunity to get the word out about various social issues. It’s a great way to drive people to your cause. However, social media campaigns like all PR campaigns are risky. A skilled PR team can spot problems and turn what looks like a potential disaster into a victory. Then on the other hand, there are times you have a campaign so bad at its outset that nothing can save you. These are 4 of the worst cases of hashtag hijacking:

4. #RIMjobs



When the Research In Motion, makers of Blackberry had 6,000 job openings they created this hashtag to bring attention to their website that people could use to apply for positions in their company. Apparently their PR team was asleep when someone okayed this ill-fated hashtag. Twitter users took it in a completely unintended direction, as the term has a decidedly “Not Safe For Work” connotation. Admittedly, one could see how they might have thought it innocuous, R.I.M. are in fact the initials of the company, and they WERE advertising job openings… The point of the hashtag was to get people to talk about it, so I guess it was sort of successful. It would go down in history as a cautionary tale, one whose moral is businesses need to consider every angle of any social media campaign. Fortunately for them, they wouldn’t be the only ones to make such a mistake.

3. #Aurora


This hashtag was created in response to the shooting massacre in Aurora Colorado at the opening night of the movie The Dark Knight Rises that saw the deaths of 12 moviegoers at the hands of a gunman in a Joker costume. Tweets with the hashtag were centered on support and outrage at the tragedy.
It baffles the mind then that Celeb Boutique didn’t notice this when they attempted to hijack the hashtag to promote their new design:

Pretty sure someone got fired over this.


Thing is, hashtag piggybacking is actually a recommended technique to get your own hashtag to trend. Key part of said technique is research to make sure it’s relevant. Unfortunately for celeb boutique, they seemed to miss that part of communications 101.



Sure. This couldn’t possibly go wrong.

Police work requires a certain level of trust from the public; in the laws, in the courts, and most importantly in the police themselves. The public image of police has taken a beating recently, with highly publicized accusations of brutality and discrimination. Considering the dire financial situation most agencies find themselves in – 85% of police agencies report massive budget cuts – Police need all the help from the communities they can get. One way of getting that help is by projecting an image of approachable, trustworthy police that the public can rely on.

So when their image needed a bit of rebranding, the NYPD created the #myNYPD hashtag to show police in a friendly, positive light by actually taking smiling pictures with citizens as if to say, “we’re friendly and trustworthy!”

Whelp. That failed.


Soon after the launch of the hashtag twitter users tweeted hundreds of pictures like the above, depicting scenes of NYPD officers engaged in apparent police brutality. It drew even more negative attention to the tensions between the police and the citizenry. There’s a school of thought that if you want to use twitter to help get your image out there that you should probably be aware of the general public opinion of your organization.

1. #WhyIStayed



This hashtag was created by a woman who wanted to share her experience with domestic violence and explain why it can be hard for a victim of domestic violence to leave. Many of the tweets are a showcase of the reasons and rationalizations that cause people to stay in abusive relationships, from the thought that no one else would love them, to not being able to find another place to stay, to the fear that abandoning their marriage would run counter to their religious beliefs. It is a dialogue of the victims of the growing issue of domestic violence, one that seeks to put a face to the statistics.
In another case of wildly missing the point of the original hashtag, DiGiorno‘s attempt to hijack to promote their home pizza products was seen as spectacularly bad form.



After a backlash of outraged tweets, Digiorno quickly apologized and took the offending tweet down. In a rare act of contrition by a business that has blundered, Digiorno responded to everyone that expressed outrage personally apologizing to each one individually.

What are some of your favorite hashtag disasters? Share them with us in the comments below.

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