The world in a #: the age of nano-public relations

We live in an age of nano-PR, when a mere symbol (#) followed by a few words smashed together (justlikethis) can spell glory or doom for your PR campaign. Here is a recent example of the latter, which was brought to my attention in this post by Gordon Macmillan. In a nutshell, a McDonald’s campaign to highlight its (presumably positive) relationship with food growers was hijacked when the company started using the #McDStories hashtag, versus the more deliberate #MeetTheFarmers. Then came a torrent of unflattering tweets about customers’ McDonald’s experiences – ranging from a chipped tooth, to upset tummies resulting from innocent consumption of Micky D’s fare.

Cautionary tale or plain bad luck? I think the author’s comment about McDonald’s being a brand that polarises people is clearly a valid one. Invitations to engage via social media carry risk; and in this case, when is it ever NOT open season for mega-brand, fast food bashing? Or was it merely a case of – to cite another post from the Wall – a hashtagfail?

Contrast this with the Twitter campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which used the hashtag, #factswithoutwikipedia, referring to the Wikipedia blackout. The tweets ranged from the absurd (“Charlie Sheen is a model citizen”) to the all-out silly (“The Great Wall of China was built to keep the rabbits out”).  But the owners of the hashtag got their point across. True, they were riding the already huge crest of anti-SOPA sentiment.  But the hashtag was well-crafted: it got people to think, get creative, then comment, versus issuing a more deliberate call to action (e.g., #signthepetition). You could say the McDStories hashtag achieved all of this; but in doing so, it exposed a certain lack of self-awareness about the full range of customer sentiment that would be on offer.

What’s been your favourite, PR campaign-generated hashtag? And do you think the direct (#dothisrightnow) or subtle (#youknowyouwantto) approach works better?

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