How to Avoid a Hashtag Backlash

by Kayla Cille Terry

By now, most companies have realized that having a social media presence is crucial to connecting with customers. However, some are still missing the mark when it comes to communicating with users and making messages relatable.

As an example, McDonald’s recently felt the sting from a swarm of Twitter users and their scathing responses to a promoted #McDStories tweet.

“My father used to bring us to McDonald’s as a reward when we were kids. Now he’s horribly obese and has diabetes. Lesson learned #McDStories,” wrote @natebramble.

McDonald’s probably wasn’t expecting responses like the one above, but because they’re one of the most recognizable brands in the world, the negative replies didn’t go unnoticed. #McDStories soon became a lesson on social media tone-deafness, and the original tweet has since been deleted.

On the other side of the world, Australia’s Quantas Airlines planned an ill-timed contest last November centered around the hashtag #QuantasLuxury. This happened a day after the company broke off contract negotiations with its unions. To make matters worse, a month prior Quantas had suddenly grounded its fleet, leaving thousands of angry customers stranded. The company was already on thin ice with consumers and their lack of self-awareness made for a perfect storm of Twitter bashing.

Despite these PR disasters, plenty of companies have successfully sparked engagement while still promoting their brands. In December of 2010, RadioShack proved that they knew how to market a promoted tweet in their “Holiday Heroes” campaign.

RadioShack asked users to tweet a photo of themselves reaching a hand out, accompanied by the hashtag #IfIHadSuperPowers. Over the next 24 hours, RadioShack’s team “hero-ized” each response, transforming the users into super heroes, complete with masks and capes. By the end of the promotion, there were more than 150 thousand mentions of #IfIHadSuperPowers on Twitter.

Companies that use Twitter just to promote their brands aren’t going to get very far with audiences, especially if they attempt to do it in a way that reflects poorly on their knowledge of social media. Instead, companies should strive to engage users and center conversations around a relatable theme or idea. Otherwise, they’ll just become another case study in #TwitterFail.

Kayla Cille Terry is a Digital Content intern at Luckie & Company. You can contact her by email or follow her on Twitter.

Photo credit: Mike Licht,

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