22 January 2024

Hop aboard the Hashtag Hijacking train!

By Ronald Smith

Have you ever heard of something called Hashtag Hijacking? It’s a pretty wild concept. Let me break it down for you in simple terms.

So, picture this: you know those hashtags people use on social media to join conversations and show off their posts? Well, sometimes, sneaky individuals swoop in and take over those hashtags for their own purposes. That’s what we call Hashtag Hijacking!

Now, you might be wondering, Why on earth would someone do that? Well, my friend, there are a few reasons. Sometimes, people hijack hashtags to promote their own agenda or spread their message far and wide. Other times, it’s just for a bit of mischief or even to start a lively debate.

But how do they do it, you ask? Well, it’s all about timing and creativity. These hashtag hijackers jump in when a hashtag is trending and start posting their own content using that hashtag. They aim to dominate the conversation and get their message heard.

Now, you might be thinking, Is this legal? Well, that’s a tricky question. Technically, there’s no law against hijacking a hashtag, but it’s definitely frowned upon in most cases. It can be seen as manipulative and deceptive, especially if the hijackers try to misrepresent a brand or organization.

So, how can you protect yourself from falling victim to hashtag hijacking? First, be cautious about the hashtags you use. It’s a good idea to research them beforehand to see if they have been hijacked before. Second, monitor your hashtags regularly to spot any signs of hijacking. And finally, if you do come across a hijacked hashtag, don’t engage with the hijackers. It’s best to report it and let the platform handle the situation.

In a world full of creative mischief, hashtag hijacking is just another twist. It’s an interesting phenomenon that keeps us on our toes in the ever-evolving landscape of social media. So, be aware, stay smart, and keep those hashtags safe from the hijackers!

Hop aboard the Hashtag Hijacking train!

Let me start by saying that if you don’t know what a hashtag is, this might be a bit confusing. A hashtag looks something like this: #SMBinfluencer. If you need more info about hashtags or how to use them in marketing, it might be a good idea to check out our earlier article called What is a hashtag? It’ll help you understand this one better when you come back.

But if you’re already a pro at social media, keep reading! You might not realize how easy it is for your company to become a target for hijackers.

For now, I’m gonna focus on Twitter hashtags. Even though hashtags are used on other social networks too, Twitter seems to be the perfect place for hijackers to do their thing.

What does it mean to Hijack a Hashtag?

Basically, hijacking a hashtag is a bad thing. It’s when someone takes over a hashtag and uses it in a negative or harmful way.

Hashtag hijacking is when someone uses a hashtag for a different reason than what it was meant for. It happens in two ways: attention-seeking trolls and PR campaigns that backfire. Let me explain both of them.

1. The Attention Seeking Troll

Hop aboard the Hashtag Hijacking train!

So, there’s this type of hashtag hijacking that’s pretty common, but not really that harmful. It usually comes from this certain type of person that I like to call the attention seeking troll.

You’ve probably seen them around before. They’re those annoying people on Twitter who use a hashtag to promote their own unrelated stuff. They know that lots of people are searching for that hashtag, so they think they can get some attention by using it in their tweets.

Businesses often encounter these attention-seeking trolls when they create a specific hashtag for a contest or an event. For example, let’s say you’re hosting a Twitter chat, well, a troll might start posting random tweets using the hashtag you picked for the chat.

It’s really annoying when attention trolls use hashtags to cause trouble. Thankfully, they usually aren’t a big problem because they quickly move on to another hashtag after causing chaos. They throw unrelated tweets like grenades and disappear.

The best thing to do with attention trolls is to ignore them. If you engage with them, it can turn into a virtual shouting match, which is never a good thing.

  • They repeatedly post on popular topics just to get attention.
  • They post links with unrelated tweets.

This definition seems to include tweeting with unrelated hashtags as well. If you want to report a Twitter account for spam, you can visit their profile page. Click on the little person icon to see the drop-down menu. Then choose report for spam, like in the screenshot below:

2. When a PR Campaign Backfires

Hop aboard the Hashtag Hijacking train!

When it comes to hashtag hijacking, there’s a second type that’s a lot worse for businesses.

This happens when a brand creates a hashtag to generate positive PR, but then it gets taken over by people who want to criticize or make sarcastic remarks. Instead of spreading positivity, the hashtag is used to attack the business or make snarky comments.

A well-known example of hashtag hijacking is what happened to McDonald’s. Back in 2012, the fast food giant started a hashtag campaign called #McDStories. They only sent out a few tweets using the hashtag, but soon the public took over and used it in ways McDonald’s never expected. Customers started sharing their own stories about negative experiences they had with the brand. They also used the hashtag to mock and criticize the hamburger chain.

When I heard about the hashtag trending, I couldn’t believe it – but for all the wrong reasons. People, whether because they were unhappy with McDonald’s or just looking to poke fun at a big brand, quickly turned the sentiment of the hashtag negative.

It’s been nearly a year and a half, and you can still sometimes stumble upon the #McDStories hashtag. Occasionally, it’s used in a positive way, but most of the time, it’s negative. Just take a look at this recent tweet from two days ago:

I found a small piece of feather in my McNugget. Has anyone else experienced disappointment with something they ordered from McDonald’s? #McDStories

— HillsAngel (@the_hills78) August 17, 2013

Of course, McDonald’s isn’t the only brand that has fallen victim to clever hashtag hijacking. It seems to happen quite often to big brands.

Even famous people and businesses can become targets. Just look at what happened to Paula Deen. She faced a lot of criticism on Twitter and other places. One hashtag in particular, #PaulasBestDishes, was used to mock her. It was originally a tag used by fans to share recipes, but once accusations of racism came out, it became a way for people to vent their anger.

This kind of hijacking can happen in politics too, like with the hashtag #ObamacareIsWorking.

The more famous someone or something is, the more likely they are to be targeted.

So here’s what usually happens: when a hashtag gets hijacked, it actually becomes a lot more popular and visible. And not in a good way! The sarcastic and negative uses of the hashtag make it go viral. This means that all the bad stuff about it gets magnified. It’s like a messy train wreck, especially when it comes to public relations.

Hop aboard the Hashtag Hijacking train!


How to Avoid Your Hashtag Getting Taken Over

  • First, don’t make hashtags that are unclear, only benefit yourself, or are all about praising yourself. These are the ones that can attract sarcastic comments and make your PR campaign backfire. Trying to get people to say good things about your business or participate in a random tagline you made up is not a smart way to use social media.
  • Secondly, be specific and provide users with a hashtag that offers them something in return. For example, if you create a hashtag for a contest and ask people to tweet using that hashtag to enter, they will be less likely to use it for humor or negativity. If they have a reason to use it, they will use it, rather than making fun of you.
  • Thirdly, some companies purposely choose hashtags that don’t include their Twitter handle or any form of their brand name. Hashtags that don’t have your brand in them are not as easy for people to use against your brand. The success of hijacking a hashtag depends on it being recognizable and spreading quickly.
  • Fourthly, think about what’s happening in your company right now. If things are tough, like if you’re having layoffs or there’s been a recent public screw-up, it’s not the best time to start a hashtag campaign. That would just give people another reason to attack your company.

The good news is that small businesses are usually more genuine on social media compared to big brands. There aren’t as many layers between the employees and the customers, so small businesses tend to have more natural conversations. But it’s still something to keep in mind.

In today’s world, where anyone with a computer or smartphone can share their thoughts with the whole world, businesses have to be extra careful about public relations.

What is Hashtag Hijacking: Things to Remember

  • Hashtag hijacking is when people use a hashtag for something other than its original purpose, and it often hurts a brand.
  • There are two main types of hijackers: the Attention Seeking Troll, who uses popular hashtags for unrelated self-promotion, and the PR Campaign Gone Wrong, where the public uses a brand’s PR hashtag in a sarcastic or negative way.
  • There have been some big examples of hashtag hijacking, like McDonald’s #McDStories and Paula Deen’s #PaulasBestDishes, which both got a lot of negative attention.
  • To stop hashtag hijacking, it’s important to use specific hashtags, give value to users, stay away from tags that are only about your brand, and be careful when your company is going through a crisis.
  • When it comes to small businesses and their use of social media, being true to themselves can actually be a good thing. It might mean that they don’t have to worry as much about certain risks. But that doesn’t mean they can relax completely – staying aware is still really important.