Marketers have gone hashtag crazy. Beyond Twitter and Instagram, Facebook recently incorporated hashtags into its platform. Hashtags are appearing in TV ads and on packaging. Some marketers are referring to hashtags as the new URL.
But there’s a fundamental difference between hashtags and a URL. Brands aren’t in control of hashtags. JPMorgan Chase discovered this the hard way a couple months ago when it scheduled a live Twitter chat with the hashtag #AskJPM, inviting people to submit questions. The hashtag quickly started trending, but not for the reasons JPMorgan expected.
It’s the same lesson that McDonalds famously discovered with #McDStories two years ago (which quickly devolved into snarky comments about Type 2 Diabetes and how McNuggets are made). When consumers are invited to talk about a brand, they’re not always going to say nice things.
Marketers refer to this phenomenon as “Hashtag Hijacking”, but that’s a misnomer. Hijacking implies that brands own the hashtag at the start. Unlike traditional marketing messages, brands can’t script the narrative. Brands can spark conversations, but they can’t control them.
Here’s my cartoon inspired by the hashtags in TV ads in last year’s Super Bowl. Social media allows brands to start conversations, but are they conversations worth starting?
(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)