Hashtag campaigns are risky business, which is why I recently wrote a post on how to launch a successful hashtag campaign. But what if a hashtag campaign targeting your organization is launched by someone else? And worse, what if it gets picked up and begins to go viral with negativity about your organization?
Chevron was recently put in this predicament when @thetoxiceffect started a hashtag campaign against them by promoting the hashtag #AskChevron. This hashtag campaign, which is in essence a hashtag brandjack campaign, was launched the same day as the company’s annual shareholders meeting. A coincidence? Definitely not. This means that @thetoxiceffect planned this campaign strategically – and it worked. The hashtag quickly began to trend on Twitter.
After multi-year propaganda offensive @Chevron dumps #renewable effort. So I will #AskChevron WTF? http://t.co/CIlfPVCdtY
— Dave Hamilton (@newenergydave) May 30, 2014
#AskChevron why they love #Liberia: “The environment — we’ll take care of it later.” – President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
— Stephanie Horton (@ducorwriter) May 30, 2014
@Chevron @CMEWA_NorthWest #AskChevron Why are you destroying the Amazon and abusing human rights? — Ryan Feinberg (@ryanfeinberg407) May 30, 2014
Many people are discussing what this may mean for Twitter. For some reason they have the impression that organizations will begin to leave Twitter because they’ve discovered this type of attack as a risk. This is an unrealistic assumption for three reasons:
- This type of attack can happen – and trend – on Facebook, Google Plus and everywhere else that hashtags are used… which is pretty well everywhere;
- Whether you’re present on Twitter (or other social media channels) or not, the attack can still happen, pick up speed and become an issue for your organization; and
- Twitter is far too valuable a communications channel for organizations (with common sense) to leave it.
How can you protect your organization from a hashtag brandjack campaign?
So if this is a risk for your organization, like it or not, what can you do about it?
First thing’s first, identify it as a risk
Awareness is the first step towards preparing your organization. So, guess what? A hashtag brandjack campaign is a possible risk – and not just on Twitter.
Plan for the risk and identify important triggers
There are different levels of issues, ending with an issue that needs to be escalated to the crisis team. It’s important to have these levels identified (including identifiable markers within each), as well as to identify key triggers that indicate that an issue needs to be escalated. Considering that a hashtag brandjack campaign is a risk that can garner a lot of unwanted attention, it would be smart to think through proper response protocols prior to this risk becoming a reality – especially if you’re an organization that the media and activist groups love to paint as a villain.
Here are some questions for you to consider while developing an issues management plan for this type of scenario:
- If a hashtag brandjack campaign was targeted against your organization, when would it be OK to sit back and let the conversation unfold on its own, and at what point would it be necessary for your organization to jump in with a statement?
- How can you evaluate whether it’s a situation that may die down on its own, or one that may escalate and begin to spiral out of control?
- Is there something your organization can tweet / publish that will allow you to regain control of the situation and stop it from escalating further?
- Is there an opportunity for you to take the negative issue and turn it into a positive PR opportunity that connects you closer to your stakeholders? How can you identify this opportunity and act on it?
- At what point does the crisis team need to step in and protect the organization’s reputation – or worse, its bottom line?
Chevron’s chosen response
Chevron’s course of action was to release the following statement:
“We view this as nothing more than inconsequential noise. The time and money spent on this stunt would be better spent helping the people these groups claim to represent. Those who continue to advance the fraudulent claims against Chevron, including PR agencies, are not being transparent or honest.”
So far, this incident is nothing more than an issue, which means that the campaign, as well as Chevron’s response, doesn’t currently threaten their reputation or bottom line over the long-term. However, I can’t help but think of the opportunities Chevron is missing out on with this cold statement. Opportunities that could connect them closer to their stakeholders and the general public.
Remember: Issues present PR opportunities to organizations, when managed effectively.
Takeaways for your organization
Hashtag brandjackings are a thing and they can stir up a lot of unwanted attention around your organization. That said, they’re an issue that your team needs to be aware of and, preferably, ready to respond to with a plan of action to turn the issue into a positive PR opportunity for your brand.
Social media is a powerful communications tool that presents many wonderful opportunities. Issues management, when done effectively, is one of those opportunities. The better prepared you are in advance, the more opportunities you will be able to leverage for your organization, in the heat of the moment.
Workshop: Effective Issues Management in this Digital Age
Learn how to identify issues in the early stages, assess the risk that they present to your organization, prevent them from escalating into crises and, most importantly, transform them into powerful PR opportunities for your organization. Learn more here.
Author of Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World, Melissa Agnes is a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. Agnes is a coveted keynote speaker, commentator, and advisor to some of today’s leading organizations faced with the greatest risks. Learn more about Melissa and her work here.
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