Ah, the hashtag. It giveth, it taketh. And sometimes, it fucketh you over.
The latest case in point: #MyNYPD, a hashtag designed to get regular folks to tweet pics of themselves innocently spending time with the po-po, instead yielded an outpouring of photos depicting police brutality. This then prompted the formation of similarly damning hashtags in other cities, including "MyCPD" in Chicago and "MyLAPD in Los Angeles, surfacing truly disturbing cases of recent abuse to light—which is important—but not precisely what one wants from a social media promotion.
Alas, this is not the first time a a hashtag has backfired (and a social media chump has likely been fired). Here are three pieces of wisdom gleaned from the abyss of wow-inducing mistakes.
Lesson 1: It's All About Timing
For this lesson, we bring you the case of #QuantusLuxury. This high-life Quantus Airlines hashtag shouldn't have been a PR nightmare...except that it launched when thousands of the airline's passengers were stranded overseas. (So much for luxury!)
Ditto McDonald's bone-headed #CheersToSochi campaign. A hashtag pegged to the Olympics is a swell idea. A hashtag pegged to the Olympics in a totalitarian country where LGBTQ people are persecuted and brutalized? Not so much.
Lesson 2: Know Your Image
It's probably best not to open up your brand to the social media masses if your brand, well, sucks—which is pretty much what happened in the case of the publicly-maligned police force.
Here, too, McDonald's provides a salient example of what not to do. When the company, not exactly known for fine cuisine, asked people to tell stories about their food using the hashtag #McDStories, it was flooded with tales of fingernails and other inedible treats hidden within not-so-Happy Meals.
Lesson 3: Make Sure Your Hashtag Isn't (Unintentionally) Hilarious
Always be aware of how your hashtag can be interpreted by the immature idiot lurking inside us all. Example A: when BlackBerry, which once operated under the company "Research in Motion," launched the hashtag #RIMJobs. Example B: When Susan Boyle's album was promoted with #susanalbumparty. (Side tip: always watch SNL's "Celebrity Jeopardy" to avoid some of these embarrassing mistakes.)
#RIMJobs, get it? HAHA!