How not to use hashtags to market products and services

How not to use hashtags to market products and services

Marketers need to recognize that a social media presence is not a billboard – it’s not an empty space that you can buy and slap your message on. When you engage in a social media campaign, you’re joining a conversation – or in Kenneth Cole’s case, crashing a party to which you have not been invited.

Smart marketers find a way for their social media efforts to support that connection – to not only respect the conversation that is already underway, but to strengthen and extend it with their own contributions and resources.

#1 – Kenneth Cole – How not to use hashtags

The Internet is buzzing with anger following a tweet on fashion designer Kenneth Cole’s (Chairman and Chief Creative Officer) account that many feel makes light of the protests in Egypt.

The tweet in question reading:

Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at -KC

Kenneth Cole - How not to use hashtags

The Twitterverse, unsurprisingly, is not happy with Cole’s 140-character missive. A fake account – @KennethColePR, à la @BPGlobalPR – has even cropped up, mocking the designer with such tweets as: “Our new slingback pumps would make Anne Frank come out of hiding! #KennethColeTweets.”

Cole later issued an apology on his Facebook Page:

“I apologize to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt. I’ve dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues, and in hindsight my attempt at humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.”

#2 – Habitat – How not to use hashtags

Why didn’t Kenneth Cole learn from the mistakes that UK retailer Habitat did a couple of years ago?  The company employed “hashtags” like Iran election and Mousavi – being some of the most popular – to improve positioning in search results and to boost their hit rate.

Habitat UK - How not to use hashtags

Anyone searching on the site for information about the Iran election or Mousavi was presented with a link to Habitat’s latest catalogue. Habitat had to issued an apology:

“This was a mistake and it is important to us that we always listen, take on board observations and welcome constructive criticism. We will do our utmost to ensure any mistakes are never repeated.”

#3 – Gap – How not to use hashtags

Think twice before you try to turn a natural disaster into a promotional opportunity. American Apparel offered 20% off for those in states affected by Hurricane Sandy, in case they were “bored” by the storm.

Oddly enough, American Apparel wasn’t the only retailer to anger everyone affected by Hurricane Sandy. The Gap encouraged people to do some online shopping as the storm approached, instead of you know, preparing to deal with a powerful hurricane. The company eventually removed the tweet and offered apology.

Gap Tweet Hurricane Sandy

Don’t use a political and human situation

So don’t use a political and human situation that many people are concerned about, to market products and services.

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About The Author

Torben Rick

Experienced senior executive, both at a strategic and operational level, with strong track record in developing, driving and managing business improvement, development and change management. International experience from management positions in Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and United Kingdom

Blog Comments

I have never heard of a “Hashtag” before, but really appreciate this post as an insight to what some companies do with regards to Twitter. I would never dream of promoting myself by using such an insensitive approach. I also hadn’t realised the importance of tags in Twitter.

I am only 2.5 years old to social networking and probably haven’t used it to its full advantage, however I do realise the importance of being able to grow your audience through correct social networking. This is a reminder to me in the future to keep doing things correctly. Although it might be slower, nevertheless my site is still growing and maybe I should learn a little more about social media to help that growth.


Have you seen the TV commercial by some car company in which the sales people are actually reading tweets with hashtags? (I assume they’re fake tweets too.) They say that someone is unhappy with their car, then read: Joe says “hashtag badcar, says he needs a new car or some such crap.

HORRIBLE, horrible use of hashtags!!

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