So it’s official! Hashtag has been voted ‘word of the year’ by the American Dialect Society.
While the word has been around for decades, hashtags initially became popular on Twitter, where users would put them within tweets to make a larger comment or joke. From there, it spread onto Facebook and everyday speech and a tipping point came when the only three words used on the cover of Newsweek magazine’s final print issue were preceded by a hashtag, making the cross over from web to print complete.
Twitter hashtags are a great way to organize tweets for common subjects or events, but people also use them as a way to connect to others over a good laugh. Once the twitterverse starts putting in their two cents, you get crowd-sourced, viral comedy. I’ve put together what I think are five of the funniest hashtag PR disasters that I’m sure will make you laugh:
#Susanalbumparty: Susan Boyle’s PR people are probably wishing they had re-read their promotional hashtag after missing its alternative message to Twitter users. Causing great mirth on the social network, the unfortunate hashtag spawned a deluge of mock invites to the party until it was hastily renamed #SusanBoylesAlbumParty.
#McDStories: Back in January, McDonald’s #McDStories hashtag backfired when instead of offering “good news stories” about the fast-food chain, users began flooding the tag with claims of fingernails in burgers and other nasties.
#WaitroseReasons: When the supermarket asked shoppers to complete the sentence: “I shop at Waitrose because …” using the hashtag #WaitroseReasons in September, it perhaps should have expected the subsequent tirade of jokes about the brand’s posh image – though many have said the way Waitrose responded turned the campaign from disaster to success.
#MadeMeSmile: Vodafone was left bemused when Twitter users redeployed the PR #mademesmile tag to publish tax avoidance allegations directly to the company’s website.
: Airline Qantas won the accolade of PR disaster of the year at the end of 2011 after opening up their promotional hashtag #QantasLuxury at a time when thousands of passengers were stranded overseas.
Purists will of course say that hashtag isn’t in fact a word but a symbol (like exclamation mark or question mark) and that the real name for this symbol is octothorpe – not quite as catchy though is it?