When hashtags go bad. How to spot a bashtag and what do you do when it goes wrong?

The modern world is powered by the hashtag, it started in IRC (Internet Relay Chat) rooms and was very seldom used. But then Twitter hit the mainstream and used hashtags as a major way to categorise content and figure out trending topics.

After that these amazing little pieces of text were propelled into stardom and now every major social media platform uses them. Companies, and governments, are now also using them as live marketing campaigns as a Q&A area or a way to gain feedback.

Sometimes though, this doesn’t always work in their favour and their hashtag campaign turns into a bashtag.

Bashtag vs Hashtag. When do you know the difference?

A hashtag and a bashtag are exactly identical, because they are the same thing. A hashtag on social media is anything that has a # on the front of it and as mentioned it’s the major way for social media giants to categorise posts.

A bashtag is when one of these hashtags becomes hijacked and is usually one that is purely associated with a company or individual. In most recent years the common way for these to pop up is when a government has done an “ask me anything” (AMA) social marketing exercise.

One of the most famous hashtags gone wrong was McDonald’s during its #McDStories campaign, where instead of people sharing good stories about the brand it got completely hijacked and became an advert as to why you don’t stop there. You can read more about this story, and others in this blog from Mashable.

Hashtag to bashtag: An example of how a simple marketing campaign turns sour.

Do you know when a hashtag will go sour?

The good, and bad, thing about the internet is there is absolutely no way of being able to tell when a hashtag is going to turn bad. Freedom of speech means that any marketing campaign can become something you’ll want to forget quicker than you planned.

If your hashtag does get hijacked then sometimes you’ve just got to let it go and let people have their fun. The internet sometimes might just have other ideas and it isn’t limited just to social media. Just ask Benadryl about their pollen map.

There are a limited few on the internet that will just take over a hashtag for no reason, even if they have no idea who you are or what you do. Sometimes it’s best to ignore these as it is impossible to stop.

What do I do if my hashtag gets hijacked?

Sadly there is nothing you can do when this happens. As soon as something on the internet takes hold then usually there’s no turning back, the best thing for a brand to do is just sit back and limit the damage.

Sometimes, you can salvage things if you join in with the fun but that’s not recommended if your brand isn’t usually known for making fun of itself. It might work for innocent and Wendy’s but not for Disney.

Usually bashtags that happen are done and forgotten pretty quickly, McDonalds stands out purely because it went viral so quickly and it was one of the first corporate ventures into this style of Marketing.

I’d also like to stress, for a small business it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get picked on by internet users. It’s much more likely that people will support you in this so don’t be afraid to try it.

Picking the right has hashtag

If you are planning to go down this route, there are some definite golden rules to follow when picking the right words to use in your hashtag. Because if there’s less fun in the title then there’s a smaller chance that people might decide to be funny with it.

My first tip would be to make sure there’s no other way someone could mix up what it says. For example, Susan Boyle had an online launch party for new album and this became infamous for its wording. Susan’s Album Party, or #susanalbumparty quickly became funny if you put the spaces in a different place, it became a new party altogether.

Secondly, don’t make your hashtag too long. There’s a limited number of characters on Twitter and you don’t want half of it to become a hashtag, so it’s a good idea to have something that is short and can be consistent across networks.

Finally, and this is most important as an SME, promote it well before the date. Utilise your headers and website to let people know you’re going to be having this promoted hashtag. Get your friends, family, and loyal customers involved in the hashtag to drown out anyone that wants to take advantage. If you can weed out and bore the trolls before they can do any damage you’ll likely not have it spiral out of control.


If you are thinking of using a hashtag campaign within your next marketing initiative and want to understand more about them. Then this is something I can help with. Find out more about my social media consultancy here or hire me by clicking below.

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