Hey! You! Get offa my #tag!

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Whether you call it brand-jacking, news-jacking, real-time marketing, or whatever, one thing can be said about it:

Don't talk about stuff you've got no business talking about. 

If you don't know what I'm talking about, let me explain: real-time marketing is when you inject your brand into a topic trending on social media. Sometimes, it works very, very well; however, if you don't do it strategically, it does more harm for your brand than good. 

Some examples: good, bad and horrible

Let's look at some examples that were really, really good, and why they worked. 

Good: Oreo's Superbowl 2013 tweet

During the power outage that plagued the Superbowl, Oreo put this out:

It is often cited as the first, best example of real-time marketing. It's also pretty great. But what those who cite it as an example of success ignore is why it really worked: Oreo had been present in the social media discussions of the Superbowl up to that point. The brand had marketing planned throughout the Superbowl ad cycle, they were present on social up to that point, and when the blackout happened, their tweet tapped into the zeitgeist of the moment.

In short, Oreo was that person at a party you always like to have around, because they're really good at diffusing awkward, negative moments with well timed humour and grace.   

Good: Salvation Army uses #thedress to raise awareness of domestic violence

In March, the Internet decided it needed to figure out what colour a dress was. A few days later, the Salvation Army made it a part of its domestic violence awareness campaign: 

I think this worked for few reasons: 

  1. The Salvation Army demonstrated it clearly understood #thedress meme and had followed the discussions around the science of how the eye perceives colour
  2. They are making a subtle critique that there are more important things than the colour of a dress in our world, and ... 
  3. The more important thing is not them. The tagline on their ad is "if you need help or are able to help, call ..." 

Bottom line: If you're going to inject yourself into a conversation, don't make it about you. 


Here are a few examples of #tag-jacking gone wrong, and why. 

Bad: Spamming a trending tag

At the iMedia Conference in March, the conference hashtag #imedia15 was trending locally, and in Canada, by midday. Which led to annoying tweets like this: 

What brands that do this are trying to accomplish is a small percentage of conversions. They’re thinking, “If we get a 4% conversion rate, that’s great!” 

However, Scott Stratten, author of Unmarketing and Unselling, explains how bad this sort of thinking is in his CPRS 2014 National Conference keynote. He said (and I’m paraphrasing quite a lot) that you shouldn’t be happy with a 4% conversion rate, because what it means is that you’ve annoyed 96% of your audience. 

Bottom line: Spamming is always bad.  

Horrible: Celeb Boutique skips the news; refrains from thinking

During the 2012 mass-shooting in Aurora, Colorado, the tag #aurora emerged on Twitter to update people on what was happening. Then Celeb Boutique tweeted this: 

This tweet doesn't exist any more, except in screen shots like this one. I got this one from the Huffington Post, but there are many more out there, which is a good reason to think that you can't just delete a tweet and hope it goes away. 

This tweet doesn't exist any more, except in screen shots like this one. I got this one from the Huffington Post, but there are many more out there, which is a good reason to think that you can't just delete a tweet and hope it goes away. 

This example shows how poorly thought-out real-time marketing can create a public relations nightmare for your brand. If the rocket scientist who thought this was a good idea spent 30 seconds reading other #aurora-tagged tweets, I am fairly certain he or she would have passed on posting that tweet. 

Lesson learned: research a tag before you hitch your wagon to it. 

What other good examples have you come across, and why do you think they work?