Cue the (perceived) police brutality pictures using the same hashtag.
Embarrassing. But somewhat predictable:
People don’t like to be pushed into an obvious narrative where the brand has positioned itself as the star. And nobody likes to be with someone who stares into a mirror, and that’s a bit what this feels like.
“Enough about me. What do you think of me?”
What they might have tried:
Now if the NYPD had asked its citizens to help the department tell some kind of story of what it means to be a New Yorker through pictures, you’d have seen something of a different conversation.
Would there still have been some police brutality shots? Absolutely.
But they would have just been a part of a larger, more authentic conversation that would have aligned the NYPD’s values with those of New Yorkers.
And a whole bunch of them would have included great shots with police officers and the public without the police asking for them.
Can hashtag campaigns work?
Yes hashtag campaigns can work.
But only if the audience believes that the hashtag and the campaign lets them express what they want to express.
Thinly disguised ploys for compliments by a brand don’t go over well with audiences, even supportive ones.
And they leave brands vulnerable to hashtag hijacking.
Hashtag hijacking happens when a public feels the hashtag is poorly aligned with their experience or understanding of the brand so they align it with something else, often with hilarious results.
Doing it right:
One brand, Water is Life (with help from their ad agency DDB) turned the tables and hijacked a hashtag from the public. The brand took exception to the thoughtless phrase “first world problems” and made hay by having people living in poverty in Haiti read tweets with the #firstworldproblems hashtag.
The result was both funny and poignant – and it literally changed the conversation.
So what makes makes a great hashtag campaign?
1. The hashtag itself should be memorable
2. The conversation should be engaging and not forced on an audience
3. The campaign should help align the values of the brand with a key audience or audiences
4. The brand should have the breadth, depth and speed to handle an unexpected twist in the narrative by a participant in a charming or clever way
5. Think of aligning the hashtag with a related experience or place or memory that is relevant to the audience and not one that is compliment bait.
The bigger the brand, the more likely it is that someone at some point will try and hijack your hashtag.
But it can only be hijacked if a bunch of others pile on. Ensuring that the campaign offers the audience a more meaningful experience than the privilege of stroking your brand’s ego will help stop the pile before it begins.