Bandwagon backlash; why context is critical for content

Who knew that the humble hashtag would one day become such an important symbol?


Hashtags are one of the key cornerstones of Twitter. Such a simple concept that has revolutionised social media.

The genius of hashtags is how easy they are to use, and also how easy they make it for users to find content that they’re interested in.

Take me for example, after the crazy winds that have been blowing through Melbourne all last night and this morning, I went straight to Twitter to get an update on what was happening:

Twitter-ABC News

Even though most news sites will offer the same information with a search, Twitter often has the jump on breaking news and gives you access to multiple sources.

The speed with which information is updated is a key reason behind why more people are turning to social media sites like Twitter to stay on top of what is happening.


Hashtags are an important component for this; by searching for topics and seeing ‘what’s trending’, brands can see what consumers are interested in and talking about at that moment.

When hashtags are used in the right way, they can expose brands and branded content to potential new followers, consumers, and loyal fans.

Many brands have even created their own hashtags and used this to generate exposure, run competitions and increase consumer engagement.

However, this deceptively simple symbol can wreak havoc if misused.

Enter trending hashtags.


Hashtags that are trending on twitter are those that a lot of people are talking about at that particular moment.

Because these hashtags are the ones getting a lot of attention, the appeal for brands to jump on board and chip in with a self-promotional tweet is high.

And this is where brands go wrong.

Because sometimes, the context qualifier (the hashtag) isn’t clarified by the brand until after they have acted, as you can see here:


Sadly Celeb Boutique was grossly mistaken; Aurora was trending that day because of the Dark Knight Rises movie theatre shooting.

Kenneth Cole made a similar mistake in early 2011, when the brand issued a tweet making light of the very serious situation in Cairo.


Needless to say, the follow up clarification would have felt a lot more sincere had the brand not first attempted to make light of the situation.

Jumping on a hashtag bandwagon without knowing the context is a dangerous move for any brand.

The destruction done here can have lasting after effects; including damaging brand health and equity, as well as generating widespread negative word of mouth.

These are effects that you don’t want from your social media efforts.

This is not to say that brands shouldn’t make use of hashtags, but if you are looking at the trending topics, remember the golden rule:

Check the context first.

If it’s highly sensitive, leave it alone. If you still want to get involved, ditch the sales pitch. A genuine message that portrays a brand caring about a serious event will be far better received:


Remember, social media platforms are about personifying your brand – don’t turn them into a jerk.

Personally I think brands should be more careful about their use of hashtags – and to always check the context before jumping on any trend.

Let me know in the comments –

  • Do you think brands should get involved with trending hashtags?
  • What is the worst hashtag or context fail you’ve seen by a brand on social media?
  • Would an insensitive tweet make you think twice about buying that brand’s products/ services?

Until next time,

N. Apple_bitten.svga


18 responses to “Bandwagon backlash; why context is critical for content

  1. brands should definitely get involved with trending hashtags, but need to look into them before posting anything. once a mistake a made it’s hard to fix it. even if they delete the tweet not long after it was posted, many would have already seen it, someone would have retweeted it or have a copy of it. it will never leave the brand.

    • Great point about deleting posts – it is near impossible to ‘erase’ a brand’s online trail. I agree, these kinds of communications are what people remember, and seem more ‘true to brand’ than their carefully constructed advertisements. Having a brand with a ‘true moment’ coming off looking insensitive or heartless only tears a brand’s credentials down

  2. Great post 🙂
    I think it is extremely important that brands look into the context of the trending hashtags. As linhlinh mentioned, not only are the tweets destined to remain somewhere in cyber space… but i feel as though any customers who see a brand’s mistakes will have that memory of them in their minds. I don’t necessarily think that customers would get angry or mad at the brand for a prolonged period of time… but they would definitely be aware of their stupidity… which isn’t the best impression!

    • Thanks Abbey 🙂 definitely not the smartest move for a brand. I think we were more forgiving in the beginning, but these days consumers really do expect brands to be better than that. At least smart enough to click through the trending tweet and see what’s being said (as a minimum!). You’re right – they probably wouldn’t be mad, but it does destroy the whole relationship building aspect a bit when a brand comes across as fake or attention-seeking

  3. Brands can get it seriously wrong when trying to make sales out of sensitive events! I agree context is key! If brands are getting involved with trending hashtags id suggest to avoid sales pitches all together and just focus on adding value to the conversation that your target audience is interested in. Great post nat!

    • Couldn’t agree with you more – if a brand can find a way to personally connect with consumers that will do them far more justice for their brand health long-term. It’s almost cringe-worthy how clueless the people behind the voice of some brands are!

  4. Oh how very relevant. I know a lot of brands have used twitter as sort of an expression of their ‘personality’which can be incredibly useful if their brand is usually associated with negative feelings, particularly when marketing to gen y. I think some of the fast food chains have done this quite well. I don’t have twitter but often tweets from these companies make it onto forums such as reddit and 9gag which only increases their reach. Brands that are seen to be daggy now have a unique and effective tool to rebrand themselves.

    • Definitely, Twitter can be quite effective at showcasing the ‘voice’ of a brand when used properly. Which is why brands need to be so careful when getting on board with trending hashtags – especially as you say when these things can end up circulating on sites like Reddit! 🙂

  5. Good one Nat! Brands could engage with hashtags, perhaps create something unique special to their brand. However, in my opinion, jumping on the bandwagon and using trending hashtags (more often than not) sometimes might pose risks when brands misuse them!

    • Thanks Danson 🙂 it is definitely a risky strategy – especially if brands aren’t willing to take the time to get the right context of where the hashtag is coming from. Hopefully we’ll see less of this as brands realise the value in a little research before posting 🙂

    • Good point! If a brand makes you feel like they don’t respect the things that are important to you it could be far more damaging than a tweet that you’re not that interested in. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  6. Personally, I felt brand should definitely get involved with trending hashtags because they could take the business to a whole new level but it also depend on what kind of hashtag it is. Trending could mean either good or bad. You sure don’t want a hashtag to cause business to go downhill if you make fun of it or use it in an unprofessional unorthodox way.
    I would definitely reconsider to purchase from a company if they are being insensitive to certain hashtags that were trying to raise awareness for a good cause but choose to make fun of it. It really show what kind of level the company stood.

    • Good point Mike 🙂 brands should definitely capitalise on positive opportunities where they can. Hopefully more brands will use these examples of things not to do, and make sure they know what a trending hashtag is really about before using it. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  7. I think that its really important that business’ take care with trending tags – I remember seeing the Kenneth Cole tweets and it disgusted me – I’m sure this was the same for others too and it was a major fail for this business because now I think they are just a joke! It simply showed me that they didn’t care about the issues outside their business and therefore created an extremely bad brand association.

    • Exactly! It’s funny how with companies so focused on CSR and appearing to ‘care’ that there could be such a disconnect when it comes to what is essentially for a lot of consumers the real ‘voice’ of the brand

  8. I think it depends on the company that is getting amongst the tweets. If it is a light hearted, humorous organisation (Triple J and its presenters come to mind) then I think to a degree, a bit of cheeky (but tasteful) bandwagon jumping can be funny. If its just some faceless clothing store trying to make money, it’s instantly less likeable.

    • That’s a really good point, it depends on what they’re actually contributing to the conversation too. I agree, the approach towards a trend definitely changes how you see the bandwagon jump. Thanks for commenting 🙂

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