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.

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

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.”

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

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.”

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.

Clothier Gap also made a mildly insensitive tweet, but then took it down and apologized.

Gap Tweet Hurricane Sandy

Gap Tweet during Hurricane Sandy – How not to use hashtags


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

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