Marketwired Blog

Hashtag Hijacking

Hashtag Hijacking

By Steven Read, Senior Pre-Sales Consultant, Marketwired

When I don my company blogging hat and put finger to keyboard I tend to follow a reasonably similar format regardless of the subject I’m tackling. Whether it’s an industry trend or a more personal example of how the social space is evolving, I’m always careful to stick to the facts and provide plenty of supporting arguments. This might well be a habit formed from spending far too long in the company of journalists over the years, or it may just be a hang up from my school days: “Don’t forget, you will get extra marks for showing your workings out.” Obviously it didn’t hurt that for the last few years those ‘workings out’ took the form of links, which in turn tended to boost the performance of my writing (or content as it is now almost universally known).

But today I want to leave behind the tried and tested safety of examples and ‘workings out’ and enter into the murky world of opinion. Rather than write about what I have witnessed, or what the evidence suggests, I’m going to tell you what I ‘reckon’.

At this stage it’s probably best to reassure you that I have editorial support in another Marketwired office, quite literally on the other side of the world to me, who turns my spewings into meaningful, legible, non-litigious content. So hopefully that will protect both me and my employer from getting into the kind of trouble that can only be resolved by lawyers and chequebooks.

So, I want to talk about Hashtag Hijacking. For those of you unfamiliar with the practice, this is where either a company or a person creates a hashtag on Twitter specifically to enable people to engage in a dialogue with them. In the early days when news organisations were finding their feet in the world of user-generated content, hashtags were used to place a stream of live social media content alongside a breaking news story. It seems obvious today, but it quickly became apparent that without any filtering it was child’s play to insert inappropriate content in the stream.

Oh, some disclosure while I remember: I find Hashtag Hijacking hilarious. Honestly, it’s in the same vein as a man slipping on a banana skin and performing a Laurel and Hardy fall in the street. I know I shouldn’t find it funny, but there it is.

Hashtag Hijacking may have been a new phenomenon back in 2009, but it’s still alive and well today. Here are some more classic examples of the art form.

In October UK energy firm British Gas gave energy customers the chance to participate in a Q&A session with a senior executive from its customer service team, on the same day that it announced a 10% rise in their electricity prices. As I’m sure you can imagine plenty of people chose to use the hashtag, enthusiastically and unsurprisingly negatively.

Keen to be seen to be reflecting the mood of the public, a number of commentators, especially the UK press, weighed in with stories about the British Gas Twitter Fail.

Here’s where my opinion comes in. British Gas is the UK’s largest energy provider, operating in a hostile environment where it is required to both pass prices on to customers and make money for shareholders. The fact that both of these activities are unpopular and provoke strong reactions is not likely to be news to British Gas. Either by hashtag or @ reply, when prices go up or profits are announced I’m pretty sure that all UK energy companies fully expect a barrage of negative comments. All British Gas did was effectively provide a social media address to which these comments could be directed.

There is no doubt that there is naivety around the issue of hashtag hijacking, but I don’t agree that it’s the organisations who are being naïve here; I believe it’s the media commentators. If you’re doing business on social media, then using a hashtag to capture vitriol is a pretty effective means of keeping lines of communications with your customers open when you need to announce bad news. And if you are using social media to capture feedback, why not take steps to have criticism pre-categorised by users? It’s easy to find what resonates with users based on retweets and it’s easy to see who’s driving the conversation. As ever, the role of influence remains key. Are your customers reacting to what you’ve done, or what they are being told that you’ve done?

Long live hashtag hijacking, always amusing, often inappropriate, but no less valuable as a result.

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