4 Hashtag Hijacks (and What We Can Learn from Them)

Hashtags are a great way to start a conversation about your brand or campaign on social media–but the tables can be turned if you don’t use them correctly.

There have been a few bad hashtag hijacks (or attempts to start a hashtag gone wrong) recently. To help you know what to look out for if you’re thinking about trying to start up a hashtag, we’ve collected a few of the worst, adding in some advice how to avoid becoming a victim of your own hashtag hijack.


We already detailed this JPMorgan Chase fiasco in a post earlier this week, but seeing as this is the most recent hijack on the list, we figured we would mention it again.

The lesson: Keep hashtags from being open-ended. Open-ended hashtags invite people to say whatever they please, and can turn negative very quickly. The more specific your hashtag is, the less likely it should be to be taken and used in a way you didn’t intend.


This one is biggest hashtag disaster on the list. Rather than sparking a conversation that would show people’s immense love for McDonald’s, #McDStories became an epic bashing that detailed horrific happy meal moments, from fingernails and feathers in food, to stomach-churning sandwiches. It also included stories from former employees of the mega-franchise, which definitely didn’t do much for its employer branding.

The lesson: This is another example of why you shouldn’t use vague hashtags. But even more than that, we can also learn that you should 1) never underestimate the creativity of internet trolls and 2) never overestimate the popularity of your brand. You should always weigh the pros and cons of what you say and do before starting any campaign like this.


A few months back, Tide started using the hashtag #CleanWins. Here is the original tweet:

When your wife washes your Super Bowl Miracle Stain, you don’t get mad. You get even. #cleanwins http://t.co/veW1gK5y8T

— Tide (@tide) September 5, 2013

This seems like a pretty tame tweet, but rather than helping to promote the brand, the hashtag became associated with a mishmash of religious quotes, racist remarks, and other weird things. And, the only tweets that actually mentioned Tide said that the original tweet was sexist.

The lesson: Tide’s #CleanWins is somewhat of a mixed bag. The bad news is that #CleanWins was so vague that it confused people about its source. In turn, it never really got off the ground as a successful hashtag for Tide. The good news is that because it had Tide’s name nowhere near it, it made it harder for the hijack to really stick.

While we aren’t necessarily advocating that you use a hashtag without your name, if you afraid of getting your hashtag hijacked, it is an option to consider.

“Boots on the ground”

Although this one isn’t a hashtag, it certainly is a hijacking of sorts (you can see the original tweet here). Suffice to say, Kenneth Cole chose the wrong topic to push his marketing campaign.

The lesson: It’s always best to stay away from controversial topics. Some businesses try to be too edgy, and end up getting in trouble as a result. Stick to topics that aren’t polarizing, and never get political on a company account.

To help your brand grow and increase your recruiting opportunities, sometimes, you have to try new things–like your own hashtag. But especially in the social media-driven world we live in today, you always have to have a clear plan for your campaign before you ever launch.

Although there’s no surefire way to completely avoid people using your hashtag in the wrong way, there are a lot of things you can to to greatly decrease the chances of that happening. These tips are only the beginning, and we encourage you to do lots of brainstorming before giving anything too radical a try.