When warm & fuzzy goes dark & ugly, a #bashtag hashtag is born

When warm & fuzzy goes dark & ugly, a #bashtag hashtag is born

Companies are starting to really see the value in using social media to have conversations with their customers. Take McDonald’s for example.

Last week the social media people behind the Golden Arches turned to Twitter to engage in nostalgic conversations about Happy Meals with their customers. And with the tweet “’When u make something w/pride, people can taste it,’ – McD potato supplier #McDStories”, McDonald’s launched the promoted hashtag #McDStories and waited for the warmth. Here’s a sampling of what they got in return:

“One time I walked into McDonalds and I could smell Type 2 diabetes floating in the air and I threw up. #McDStories” @SkipSullivan

 “#McDStories @McDonalds scalds baby chicks alive for nuggets #MeetTheReality here & take action: McCruelty.com #UnhappyMeal” @michellevegan

 “I haven’t been to McDonalds in years, because I’d rather eat my own diarrhea.” @MuzzaFuzza

 “#McDStories I lost 50lbs in 6 months after I quit working and eating at Mcdonalds.” @jkingart

 “Watching a classmate projectile vomit his food all over the restaurant during a 6th grade trip. #McDStories” @jfsmith23

Hashtag #bashtag
You get the idea – #gross. This Promoted Tweet Campaign was a #McFail. In fact, according to McDonald’s social media director Rick Wion, the #McDStories hashtag was “pulled” within two hours. And in that statement we get a glimpse into the old media mentality that gets companies into trouble on new media. A search on Twitter today reveals that #McDStories is still very much talked about – now it’s mostly in reference to countless stories detailing the company’s embarrassing epic fail. Cold, hard proof that there’s no such thing as “pulling” a hashtag – once it’s out there, it’s out there forever. (Incidentally, many on Twitter claim to have proof that McDonald’s chicken nuggets last forever…mmm, chemicals).

#McDStories is quickly becoming a cautionary tale for over-eager and under-knowledgeable corporate social media employees. And although #McDStories didn’t inspire warmth and good-will toward McDonald’s, it did inspire a brand new social media term, “bashtag”, coined by Forbe’s privacy blogger Kashmir Hill (@kashhill). Definitely not the legacy they’d hoped to leave.

So what’s the lesson here for companies eager to embrace social media and have conversations with their customers? Two clear points stand out:

  1. Know the medium: No matter what your campaign intentions, understand that Twitter has a life of its own. Once something catches on, it’s impossible to stop. So consider all the possible interpretations of any hashtag you’re thinking of using – ninth grade humour has its place on Twitter.
  1. Know your brand: The only way this hashtag campaign could be worse for McDonald’s is if it serves as their first realization that a lot of people hate their brand.  Fat chance they didn’t already know that – so they should have anticipated the bashtag. Be honest with yourself and be honest with your customers.


McDonald’s isn’t alone in this world of hashtag hijacking. Also in current news is this story: Anti-gay Twitter hashtag hijacked by wit, about the Twitter handle @LBGTfacts, set up to “spread the truth about the abhorrent homosexual lifestyle”. The people behind @LBGTfacts are crying foul over “hashtag hacking” because people on Twitter have used their hashtag #LBGTfacts to post witty comments that diffuse hate and promote acceptance. Now there’s a dark and ugly story made warm and funny.

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