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Hashtag Hijack: #McDStories Campaign Takes A Turn For The Worse

We’ve all seen them – Twitter hashtags that are vague or seemingly meaningless that pepper our streams and end up not getting much traction.  If a blogger, organization or brand is smart, they’ll create a meaningful hashtag – something that conveys a simple message at a glance that is tied to a specific event, cause or campaign.  McDonald’s ran into a bit of a problem last week when it innocently used what seemed like an innocuous hashtag: #McDStories.

Here’s what happened: In trying to raise awareness for its Supplier Stories campaign a campaign “meant to draw attention to the brand’s guarantee of fresh produce,” McDonald’s used the hashtag #MeetTheFarmers (now that one makes sense!)  Later in the day, however, the company started using the #McDStories hashtag.  And then…”#mcdstories did not go as planned,” as their social media director Rick Won said.

It seems that was an understatement.

In what I’m sure was an unexpected turn of events from McDonald’s perspective, Twitter users hijacked the hashtag (turning it into a ‘bashtag’) and started sharing negative stories about McDonalds; ranging from tales of food poisoning to the company’s alleged mistreatment of animals to foreign objects found in McD meals. After about two hours, McDonald’s says it “pulled” the #McDStories hashtag and, “within an hour of pulling #McDStories the number of conversations about it fell off from a peak of 1600 to a few dozen.”  This incident leaves me with a couple of questions:

1.  How does anyone “pull” a hashtag? Is there some way to unilaterally delete a hashtag from streams? It looks like this is an option for ‘promoted’ (i.e. sponsored) hashtags.  If so, it seems kind of wrong that a brand could pull my tweet because it doesn’t like what I say; on the other hand, I could see how it would be fair if I had intentionally hijacked their hashtag that they paid for.

2.  As an arguably controversial company with its fair share of PR snafus, how come no one anticipated that a vague hashtag like #McDStories would be used for ‘evil’ instead of ‘good’?  In their defense, there will always be a malicious person with too much time on their hands just waiting for a chance to hijack a hashtag; that said, I do think that the hashtag in the particular case encouraged people to share stories about McDonald’s – good or bad.

3. Anyone feel like heading out and grabbing some fries?

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