Don’t let your Hashtags Turn on You

17 Rebecca D'Cunha


In one of my previous articles I spoke about the benefits of using semiotics in order to determine how the use of hashtags on social media platforms has changed over the past few years, however at the same time I also warned that unless used correctly you could find your hashtags turning against you. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened to the New York Police Department earlier this week, as instead of improving their online and offline image they managed to make themselves a target for abuse.

However, even though I feel bad for the NYPD and whoever runs their Twitter account – they were only trying to reach out to the community after all – part of me cannot help but feel that they are to blame for the reaction they received. This is not due to any political reason, and it is not for me to say whether the NYPD do a good job or not, but because of the way in which they went about the whole thing in the first place.

When it comes to social media my golden rule is to never ever ask people to like you. First of all it’s embarrassing, secondly it’s publicly admitting that you are trying to make friends and that you don’t have enough already and thirdly it leaves you extremely vulnerable. As we all know, there are some people in the world that just aren’t easy to get on with or go out of their way to be unkind, and when you spot these people the last thing you would do is go up to them and say “Please like me. I’m a great person to like!”

The same is true for Twitter if not worse, as even those that are perfectly nice offline can be completely different when behind the protection of a keyboard. Furthermore, social media sites have a sort of anarchic quality about them where users tend to be wary or downright distrusting of any sort of organised governmental group such as the police. Forgetting this was the biggest mistake that whoever was in charge of the NYPD’s social media account could have made.

The second mistake was using a hashtag that was open to interpretation: #myNYPD. I’m assuming that whoever came up with the campaign added the term ‘my’ to the hashtag in order to connote that the NYPD and the public could work together, that they were there for each other and that everyone could live in harmony. What they didn’t consider is that the term ‘my’ is extremely subjective; in fact it leaves little room for objectivity at all. Ultimately that hashtag was interpreted as: “What does the NYPD mean to you?” – a can of worms question if there ever was one.

So how can you avoid a complete Twitter meltdown over a hashtag? Here are my four top tips:

    1. Know your Enemy – Deal with the fact that not everyone likes you, your company or your client. Find out who they are, why they don’t like you and never give them anything they could use against you.
    2. Think of every single reaction your social campaign could receive – If the potential for a backlash is above average then scrap the idea entirely.
    3. Don’t leave tweets or hashtags open to interpretation – Unless it’s on a completely neutral subject always avoid asking for personal opinions.
    4. Have Twitter meltdown procedures in place – Reacting to a backlash the wrong way will make it ten times worse.