Hashtags are an excellent way of gaining attention for your brand or your product. Recognised on all the main social media platforms, they allow users to interact with your brand and others following the hashtag. Great…so what could possibly go wrong? In this article I’m going to tell you about 3 famous hashtag fails and how you can avoid your brand becoming a victim.

  1. McDonalds
When fast food giant McDonalds launched two hashtags in 2012 to highlight their supply chain things got interesting. The first was #MeetTheFarmers and the second was #McDstories. #MeetTheFarmers went fairly well however #McDstories took on a life of its own. McDonalds used promoted tweets to gain attention for the campaign hashtag and after they saw how it was used they quickly pulled it. The hashtag was being used for every possible gross McDonalds story, complaint or brand attack. 1600 conversations in just one day abused the hashtag leaving the brand’s social media team struggling to recover.

Rick Wion, Head of Social Media at McDonalds said: “While #meetthefarmers was used for the majority of the day and successful in raising awareness of the Supplier Stories campaign, #mcdstories did not go as planned. We quickly pulled #mcdstories and it was promoted for less than two hours.” However, hashtags have a habit of sticking around and now in 2016, customers still use #McDStories to tweet their general dissatisfaction with their meal or brand experience.

Lesson: Once you put a hashtag out into the Twittersphere you can lose control over it. The big problem with this hashtag is that it uses the brand name. Be careful about using hashtags that contain your brand name as they may haunt you forever!

  1. The Victorian Taxi Association
When the Victorian Taxi Association tried to take on Uber in November last year, things got ugly.. really ugly. The #YourTaxis campaign invited customers to share their experiences of the service and ummm… they did! Twitter users adopted the hashtag tweeting everything from poor customer service through to assaults and car accidents resulting from using the service. Boss, David Samuel, told the Guardian at the start of the campaign that he wanted honest feedback and therefore considered the campaign to be a success. Fair enough but it wasn’t great publicity for the brand and I’m sure they weren’t really that thrilled.

Lesson: If you invite feedback then be aware that you will get it. Unless your brand is squeaky clean, the chances are it will be the unhappy users who will adopt the hashhtag. Better to invite feedback via your website or email where you can manage it privately.

  1. Ask SeaWorld
SeaWorld tried to boost its image in 2013 following the release of Blackfish, an exposé of the park and its treatment of the animals. The park’s social media team decided to launch #AskSeaWorld in the hope of answering educational questions about the whales and other marine animals. Instead, people used the campaign as an opportunity to slaughter the brand raising animal welfare issues and posting shocking photos. One user tweeted “Are your tanks filled with Orka tears #AskSeaWorld”. SeaWorld’s shares have tanked (pardon the pun) since Blackfish was launched and its #AskSeaWorld hashtag didn’t help. Its shares are at an all time low and its Twitter feed is repeatedly hijacked by its own hashtag.


Always gage public sentiment before launching a hashtag. A simple search on the hashtag #BlackFish or #SeaWorld would have shown the park’s social team that public opinion was not in their favour. Inviting questions at a time when sentiment is against you is very ill advised.

I hope you enjoyed reading 3 hashtag fails and what you can learn from them. Before I go, I will remind you to get the spelling and format of your hashtag right too. Remember singer Susan Boyle’s album party hashtag #susanalbumparty … poor Susan… don’t let it be you!

By Charli Day, Freelance Blogger