Aligning a DIY store’s opening times with the death of a music legend. Positioning a luxury car brand with the appointment of Premier League Football Manager. Trying to sell two for one bedside lamps off the back of a civil war in Iran…

Sometimes it’s just plain #Wrong.

Ten years ago the hashtag was that funny “pound sign” you had to press to join a conference call. It used to remind me of playing noughts and crosses. But over the years that little symbol has embedded in our digital psyches and even entered popular culture and daily conversations, both online and in the real world –

Online: “Do I order a pint or double Jack and Coke. #Gettinghammered #Dayofftomorrow.”

Real World: “I was out last night and I saw my old boss being thrown out of a nightclub. #Awkward.”

Used effectively brands can communicate clearly and loudly via the hashtag, generating big sales. Dell was held up as a pioneering user of Twitter in the early years, quickly realizing it was an amazing channel for discounts and flash sales. It also opened up an open dialogue for customers looking for quick answers, and bypassing automated customer service help lines.

But all too often the hashtag is exploited as a go-to sledgehammer for lazy digital marketeers. Ten years ago a household name homeware brand tried to sell their range of bedside lights off the back of growing civil unrest in Tehran. The Iranian regime had cut communications across the capital to quell the popular young uprising. In response savvy activists were using Twitter to tell the world about their struggle and rivaling traditional broadcast news with their real time coverage of the violence and protests, street by street. Some bright spark in London thought it would be a good idea to #bedsidelights2for1 alongside #Tehran, simply to harvest the trending numbers following events in the Middle East. Understandably this backfired horribly and did huge damage to that brand.

Fast-forward to 2016 and it seems some brands still haven’t learned from that early faux pas. A luxury British car manufacturer, with some impressive heritage, decided to weigh in on José Mourinho’s appointment as new manager of Manchester Utd. Maybe José drives one of their new models, but in any case, it feels like a stretch.

There have been abnormally high levels of celebrity deaths in 2016, if you believe the extent of recent media coverage. The one that really stood out for me was the shock passing of Prince, dead at only 57. The outpouring of emotion was intense and we saw amazing tribute performances on the likes of Later with Jools Holland. The reaction felt authentic and justified. Then a well known UK DIY chain muscled in on the global grief with their own social media fail, adding #RIP Prince to a standard announcement about their opening hours as follows:

“Good morning everyone, happy Friday. If you need our assistance, we’re here until 8pm today, get tweeting. Have a good day! #RIP Prince.”

When a brand chooses to Newsjack, they’re obviously going after numbers of eyeballs. But you have to at least make it relevant. Or you face the wrath of the Twitterati and beyond, via other social networks and the inevitable media coverage that ensues.

Twitter officially embraced the hashtag, embedding hyperlinks in 2009. Now they’ve spread to Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr, Facebook and more. They’ve become more than a way to simple categorize posts or add a narrative. They can drive conversations, harness public support, and win attention, for next to no cost. That’s #valuable, and something Beagle Create encourages all our clients to embrace.