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The Crisis Intelligence Blog

How to Launch a Successful Hashtag Campaign

05 May

hashtag-campaignHashtag campaigns are risky. Think #McDstories and, most recently, #myNYPD.

When you give the public freedom to interpret a hashtag and share visuals or stories, even with the best intentions, you risk receiving negative contributions. However, this isn’t always a bad thing.

Read: Hashtag Brandjack Campaigns – Lessons From #AskChevron

For example: If you’re a city that wants to launch a campaign with your city name (or something similar) as the hashtag and the goal is to get citizens and tourists to partake and share what they love about your hometown, some negativity does two positive things for your campaign:

  1. It makes it genuine; and
  2. It provides you with an opportunity to hear complaints, address concerns and make your city even better.

So don’t nix your hashtag campaign idea just yet, but do pay it considerate thought and assess the risks accordingly.

How to safely and successfully launch a positive hashtag campaign

In order to increase your chances of launching a successful hashtag campaign, take the following precautions:

Assess the risk

Realize that there will probably be negative contributions, but assess the “worst case scenarios” and decide whether or not the campaign is too liberal or if those negative contributions can add value to the campaign’s mission.

Choose your hashtag carefully

Do you think that it’s possible that McDonald’s #McDstories could have played out differently had they chosen a more positive hashtag? Something like #HappyMcD? Since a hashtag campaign comes with little control once it’s launched, it’s important to start it off in the most positive direction. If your chosen hashtag is too neutral, you risk it going either way. However, if you suggest positivity within your hashtag, yes you can still get negative contributions, but the chances of the campaign having a positive impact and garnering positive contributions is stronger.

Plan ahead

If you assess the risk and decide to launch your hashtag campaign anyway, have a plan in place. This should include:

  • A triage chart
  • A response flow chart with suggested responses outlined for your frontline
  • Determine points of escalation: determine at what point a particular comment / submittal / situation needs to be escalated to the crisis team
  • A crisis plan that outlines what to do if the campaign were to negatively spiral out of control

Monitor 24/7

Do not leave a hashtag campaign unattended! For the duration of the campaign, make sure your team is monitoring the appropriate platforms and use of the hashtag in real-time, 24/7.

The final question: to hashtag campaign or not?

Hashtag campaigns can be a great way to engage with your audiences and share some great ideas and stories. However, they can be very risky as your team will have very little control over the direction that the public takes your campaign. For example, in the case of McDonald’s #McDstories hashtag campaign, this campaign was launched over a year ago and to this day this hashtag continues to be used in association with any negative experiences and stories being shared about the fast food franchise on Twitter.

For your own sake, plan your hashtag campaigns with care and don’t just assume that they will go the way you hope they will.

2 Responses to “How to Launch a Successful Hashtag Campaign”

  1. Abigaelle Mulligan May 29, 2014 at 4:16 pm #

    Hi Melissa, it was great reading this article the other day and hearing you talk about hashtag campaigns in my J410 Crisis Communications class. I found it really interesting to see how far social media has come to be used as a tool for crisis communication. If I ever deal with a crisis and find that a hashtag campaign is needed, I will make sure to take the extra precautions like Mountain View PD did (especially in not using #mvcougar). Thanks again for the great insight today!


    • Melissa Agnes May 29, 2014 at 4:40 pm #

      Hi Abbie,

      I'm so glad to hear that you enjoyed my guest lecture! Hashtag campaigns can be a fun and interactive way to market and engage with one's audiences – though they definitely need to be planned and assessed very strategically. However, a crisis hashtag is always a must these days. It's such an important part of one's crisis communications strategy. It's amazing how powerful Twitter – and social media in general – is as a communications platform. It's very fun to be a part of this time of growth and discovery.

      Keep in touch,

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