Hashtag Disaster by McDonalds on TwitterI must admit that I was surprised to see McDonalds creating another ‘promoted’ hashtag after their #McDstories disaster where former employees and customers hijacked the hashtag to share fast food horror stories on Twitter.

This time they created the hashtag #UnwrapWhatsFresh, to promote their new Premium McWrap. I’ve just read an article about this new McDonalds hashtag gone awry since people were using it to tweet about sweet nothings. However I checked the hashtag myself, and I really feel that saying this one is a Campaign Killer is highly exagerrated. I  had to digg deep for off topic tweets. Overall the tweets are quite positive from people who tried the wrap. Mostly the tweets are shared because of a Klout Perk, so I would even dare to say that in this case McDonalds made clever use of a hashtag for marketing purposes:

McDonalds Klout Perk for #UnwrapWhatsFresh

Of course that doesn’t mean that I would encourage brands to create promoted hashtags… on the contrary. I believe that people are not waiting for promoted hashtags, and even find them annoying. That’s probably a part of the reason why people misabuse promoted hashtags: to revolt against them.

As #McDstories proved it can really backfire, and brands have to be careful and should always anticipate negative reactions of the crowd. For #McDstories it was pretty obvious that  bad stories would be shared as well. We always want to see the good things in people, but it’s a fact that people blab more about complaints then compliments.

I recently came across a similar example of a brand not expecting negative replies, namely the Belgian Railway company. They have a reputation that their trains are always late. Recently we changed from winter to summer time…and unfortunately NMBS Europe felt the need to warn people about the upcoming time change on their Facebook Page NMBS Europe. If they would have done this in a funny and friendly way it might have turned out ok. Instead they spread the following sec announcement (together with an image of a clock):

Important message for our train travellers: tonight we’ll switch to summer time. 2 AM will become 3 AM. Don’t forget please! 

It didn’t take much time before people started reacting like “who’s talking“, and “make sure you don’t forget it yourself“. To make things worse the reaction of NMBS Europe on the messages of angry people was:

Only to inform you, nothing more nothing less. Greetings. (Sofie NMBS Europe)

Next to the very dry tone of voice our dearest NMBS Europe girl has a (very pixeled) cartoonstyle profile image. I agree that people prefer to talk to people and not to brands, but a cartoon image in combination with a robot style of talking is not a good solution for that!

Anyway back to hasthags for brands. I can see why brands want to use them. Clicking on a hashtagged word in any message shows you all other Tweets marked with that keyword, and hashtagged words that become very popular are often Trending Topics. My advice for brands would be to use the common hashtags that tweeps use. If people love your brand or products THEY will talk about it…so look for the hashtags that they use and spread their words and engage in communications with the people that are talking about you. Next to that use hashtags to facilitate search for certain topics for tweeps. In case of McDonalds I would rather use general hashtags like #breakfast #lunch, #lunchtime or #lunchbreak together with a picture of one of their meals. That way people searching for breakfast or lunch inspiration stumble upon the tweet and might want to go to McDonalds.

If I would be the Social Media Manager of McDonalds I would also investigate who my brand ambassadors are on Twitter, that rave about the brand, and I would regularly recommend others to follow these people on Twitter via for example #FF (= Follow Friday Recommendation). They have more than 1 million followers on Twitter, so there must be some brand advocates amongst them! And a final tip for McDonalds to round up: talk less about your products, and more about your people. From what I understood you have a very good reputation as an employer and happy team = happy customers!