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Ruth Walker

How To Hijack Hashtags

24th May 2016 Content Marketing 11 minutes to read

How To Hijack Hashtags

Piggybacking on news stories isn’t exactly breaking the mould. PR’s have been doing it for years. When executed well it can be incredibly successful for your brand. So how about hijacking hashtags? Can this work for your brand?

Now, in the age of social, it has never been so easy to express an opinion. For the companies that take the time to consider their approach, it works to their advantage. But there are also the ones that fail epically and end up in a much worse position that when they posted that risky tweet.

In this post we’ll talk about hijacking hashtags and making them work for you.

About Hashtags

Unless you’re a complete technophobe, you’ve experienced Twitter in some aspect and no doubt seen the hashtags that, when people get behind them, can trend for hours if not days.
Here’s a brief history of hashtags to get you clued up.

Hashtags were originally created by users and then later adopted by the social platform when it decided to feature them as hyperlinks to search results. They’re so popular that rival platform Facebook recently caved in and adopted the feature too.

The first time a hashtag was used by the public to categorise a subject was during the San Diego fire on 23rd October 2007. Nate Ritter reported the fire on Twitter and included the hashtag #sandiegofire in his tweet.

What started out on Twitter as a way of segmenting trending topics has evolved into a multi-functional powerhouse. Hashtags are now a way for brands and fans to interact. They also allow brands to showcase their latest offering to an enormous number of potential customers.


You don’t have to wait for the perfect hashtag to start trending. The one that you decide to target doesn’t even necessarily have to relate to your brand. If it does, that’s a nice bonus.

The hashtag doesn’t always need to have a direct tie-in with your company or a certain product or offering, but it should sum up your brand’s values.

Think to yourself, “Would this look out of place on our feed?” If the answer is yes and you think that it could have negative implications, stop right now.

As a marketer, you can’t ignore hashtags. If you strategically implement trending topics into your posts, you can:

  • Increase your content reach
  • Amplify your brand
  • Target your audience
  • Get your content found
  • Boost your SEO campaign

Attempting to hijack a hashtag is a tricky move but if you put the time and effort in, the pay-offs are fantastic. I would avoid controversial trends; it’s just going to end in tears.

For example, pizza company DiGiorno used the trending hashtag #WhyIStayed to promote its products. What it failed to realise, though, was that the hashtag was aimed at victims of domestic abuse. As you can imagine, the company caused uproar with its inappropriate tweet and swiftly deleted it.

How Can Hashtags Help Your Brand?

Hashtags can help you increase awareness about your brand and marketing campaigns, capture real-time responses on trending topics and expand the reach of your content.

The two main ways that brands can take advantage of hashtags for their marketing efforts are by creating their own hashtags and taking advantage of existing ones.

Each have their own benefits and disadvantages. Here we’ll take a look at some of the biggest hashtag wins and fails.

Hashtag Wins

I’ve gathered the best examples of brilliant marketing uses of hashtags. Let’s take a closer look at this in practice.


Sometimes a trending hashtag drops the perfect opportunity into a brand’s hands. Take #NationalFriedChickenDay, for example. When this subject started trending, Kentucky Fried Chicken reacted quickly and took full advantage of the hashtag. They used it to get their brand in front of tonnes of people, but also to the perfect audience of qualified, hungry customers.


Health drinks brand Innocent is no stranger to jumping on hashtags. Their tweet about the trending topic #PenguinAwarenessDay was pitch-perfect. It talked about their brand but in a humorous way. The beauty of this tweet is that Innocent has absolutely nothing to do with penguins but they have tapped into something many brands spend years trying to crack: they know how to make the nation laugh. And that is priceless.


After Jeremy Clarkson’s bust-up with his producer, Snickers saw the perfect opportunity to bring more attention to its brand and its tagline ‘you’re not you when you’re hungry’. It was pure genius and so simple. Clarkson’s fight allegedly resulted from being hungry, so it played straight into Snickers’ hands when the hashtag #hungry started trending.


When #hottestdayoftheyear started trending on Twitter on 1st July 2015, beauty brand L’Oréal proved that it’s possible to tie in your native advertising when hijacking hashtags without it feeling too forced. By injecting some humour into their post, they went from being yet another brand to a very relatable and, more importantly, very human one.

Hashtag Fails

We’ve taken a look at some of the most successful hashtag hijacks, so now it’s time to check out the epic failures.


Within hours of Prince’s death, Homebase posted a not-so-subtle tweet promoting the brand and included the hashtag #RIPPRINCE. As you can imagine, this sparked a huge backlash from the online community, the offensive tweet was swiftly deleted and an apology tweet was sent out for damage control.

Kenneth Cole

Fashion brand Kenneth Cole made quite a few enemies when it included the trending hashtag #Cairo in a tweet promoting the brand. At the time, the country was suffering from an outbreak of protests, and Kenneth Cole’s tweet was seen to be making light of the situation. It was removed and, yes, you guessed it, an apology was issued on the brand’s Facebook page, proving that sometimes 140 characters aren’t enough to say sorry.

Benefit Cosmetics

Make-up brand Benefit Cosmetics got itself into hot water when it jumped on the trending hashtag #MakeAMovieFatty. As you can imagine, this did not go down well with the online community, with some people asking for a refund for the Benefit products that they had bought. The company were labelled as body shamers and its initial apology tweet only made matters worse.

The lesson here is that common sense is a commodity we shouldn’t scrimp on.


The only brand to make it onto both our wins and fails list is KFC. Wanting to take advantage of the popularity of Not Safe for Work or NSFW content, the brand posted a rather tongue-in-cheek post on Twitter using the hashtag #NSFW. Suffice it to say it did not go down well and was swiftly deleted, but not before thousands of people had taken screenshots of it. KFC immediately saw the error of its ways and issued an apology.

Now that we’ve seen what can go right and spectacularly wrong, let’s take a look at the best approach to hijacking hashtags.


You’ve found the hashtag that you want to target, so now what? Before you get started, take the time to consider your approach.

Hijacking hashtags isn’t your golden ticket to success; preparation is.

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Before posting, you need to prepare for all eventualities – within reason. This doesn’t guarantee you success, but it does give you an advantage straight away by pre-emptively identifying any positive or negative outcomes.

If the cons greatly outweigh the pros of your tweet idea, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. The key thing is to always keep your brand in mind.

Selling Your Idea

Think of jumping on a hashtag as a marketing campaign. What are you trying to portray, evoke in your audience and achieve overall?


It’s important to respond to interactions online to maintain and build engagement. If possible, try to respond in real time. Identify your brand ambassadors and engage with them.

Remember that #PenguinAwarenessDay tweet from Innocent that we talked about earlier? I went back to them with a silly tweet and they responded with the same enthusiasm as was in the first tweet.

If your post is going down like a lead balloon and you’re getting more negative than positive interactions and coverage, just delete it quickly. Next, issue an apology tweet and statement before any long-lasting damage is done.

Using Hashtags To Make A Stand

When Reese’s wonky Christmas trees caused a storm on social media they created their own hashtag #AllTreesAreBeautiful. They took control of the situation, changed the conversation and turned it into a positive, which is pretty impressive.

Remember, you can also use existing hashtags to take a stand against something you believe in.

I recently posted a tweet pointing out my views on the A4 waist challenge including the hashtag #A4Waist. I run a movie blog, so this has nothing to do with my personal brand, and yet it worked. It resonated with so many people and effectively went viral, ultimately appearing in BBC News, The Guardian, Daily Mail and Yahoo News.

Dealing With Trolls

As hard as you might try, you can’t please everyone. Unfortunately, a few pesky trolls are going to try and antagonise you online. Drawing from personal experience of being trolled, I can offer the following advice.

Important things to remember

  • It’s not personal
  • Pick your battles wisely
  • Don’t lower yourself to their level
  • The positive responses will normally outweigh the negative ones

If you decide to take the risk of jumping on a controversial hashtag, bear in mind that for every 10 retweets you’ll likely to get one negative comment.

For example, after I posted my #A4Waist tweet, I got an array of unpleasant replies. You just need to rise above it. Focus on the positive comments instead. Internet trolls just want attention; don’t let them win.
In the end, I got a link from BBC News on Facebook to my branded Ruthless On Film page, so that’s the main takeaway for me, not negative comments from strangers.

It’s about identifying the comments that are from people who are genuinely upset and those who just want to get a rise out of you and trip you up.

How To Capitalise On Your Exposure

I can’t stress enough the importance of fresh content when your traffic is high. For example, you could create a press section, new post or video explaining your reason for hijacking the hashtag. Then try to bring this back to your brand, naturally.

Remember, it’s important not to alienate your existing audience. They have been there from the beginning. Eventually, the attention will die down, so make sure that you don’t stray too far from your usual posting schedule. After all, that’s what got you fans in the first place. Ideally, you should post a mix of your own content and that of your peers.

The so-called ‘golden ratio’ for sharing content online according to Rally Verse is 30/60/10. That’s 30% owned media, 60% curated and 10% promotional.

PR Tips

Ordinarily, you have only a few hours to take advantage of a hashtag unless it’s specific to a day or sporting event. Therefore, it’s important that you act fast. The hashtag will soon become old news and your preparation will go to waste.

To increase the reach of your tweet you can contact the sites that have mentioned your brand and offer to provide a quote or be interviewed. Don’t forget the big players that are sharing your content, either; retweet their posts on your page and show your followers how big the post is getting.

If your tweet starts to gain real momentum, you could contact sites and journalists that you think would be interested in covering the story. Explain your story in one sentence: why you decided to jump on the hashtag or wanted to bring more attention to it. Capture their attention with a catchy headline, short info and strong visuals.

Make the journalist’s job as easy as possible by providing them with everything that they need to create their news piece:

  • The embed code for the tweet
  • Link to the tweet
  • Screenshots
  • Quotes
  • Brand info
  • Your contact details


Hashtags irritate the heck out of some people, but there’s no disputing their influence and potential to make an impact.

They play a crucial role on social media when used correctly, helping brands to categorise posts and increase their reach. With users actively searching for topics online, hashtags are showing no sign of disappearing any time soon. Implement your hashtags strategically and the sky’s the limit.

Jumping on hashtags is like running for the bus. Put in effort & catch it, or don't & miss your chance.

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Get In Touch

So what do you think? Are you ready to get started? Have you come across any other ways to capitalise on hashtags? I would love to hear your thoughts. Just leave your comments below.

If you want to give your digital marketing a boost, get in touch with Koozai today.

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Ruth Walker
About the author

Ruth Walker

Hailing from the Midlands, Ruth is our resident film buff and cake maker. She wakes up every morning at 6am, so naturally we think she’s crazy but she brings us baked goods so she can stay.

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