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A riddle to start us off today. What do the NYC Police Department, Jeb Bush, McDonald’s, Walgreens, and Qantas all have in common? They’ve all had their hashtags hijacked. The Bush campaign is just the latest organization or company to have a hashtag used for a purpose far different from what was intended by the originator. I think the folks at Wired git it exactly right in their write up:  

This slogan-jacking shows just how difficult it has become for political campaigns to control their own message in the digital age. It’s no longer just up to the campaigns to steer the conversation and their opponents to counter it. Now we can all play a role in spinning the new narrative, which dramatically changes the power structure in campaigns.

Except that you’d be a fool if you are reading that solely in the context of politics, since it’s true for any form of marketing.  The consumer is in control, and they are very much paying attention, but maybe not for the reasons we’d prefer as marketers.  It’s imperative, therefore, that brands think long and hard about how messaging – and social media messaging in particular – can be twisted and hijacked.  If you’re trying to stir virality using a “tell me how much you love me” message, you’re probably going to go viral for the wrong reasons.

It’s not just consumers who are trying to take over the meaning of the message. Some brands have been just as guilty, and inevitably their stupidity has caught up with them.  DiGiorno’s Pizza tying a pizza sales message to a hashtag about domestic violence is just one example.  A 2013 post on the phenomenon summed it up:

The bigger the business or the more well-known the person or organization, the bigger the target on its back. And what typically happens is the hijacked hashtag becomes viral and far more visible, as a result of the sarcasm and negative uses of it.  Not only does hijacking have a negative effect, but the negative aspects are magnified.  It becomes a train wreck, where public relations are concerned.

The tags here might be #playingwithfire and #campaignfail if you’re not careful.  I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble.  You?

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