Politicians and Police suffer hashtag hijacks

David Cameron's account has been flooded with #AskDave messages since his tweet last week. Now it is the turn of the Police over its #ThinkLikeABurglar campaign.
Written by Eileen Brown, Contributor

Celebrities and prominent government members often join Twitter with good intentions. They want to inform and engage their audience. After all, Twitter is brilliant for disseminating news, albeit news that is often read in snippets and reconstructed out of context.

But sometimes these public figures find that they have bitten off more than they can chew when a hashtag goes viral.

Credit: Blooming Brainstorms

Brands could find that their carefully crafted campaign goes awry.

The Twitter hashtag gets hijacked and a meme begins. The results can often be more entertaining than the original campaign. They are certainly much more fun.

David Cameron, the Conservative UK Prime Minister Joined Twitter and posted his first tweet last Friday.

Barack Obama is much more social and has had a Twitter account since March 2007.

Cameron tweeted:

I'm starting Conference with this new Twitter feed about my role as Conservative Leader. I promise there won't be "too many tweets..."

Lord Prescott, a long time Labour politician was quick to comment:

“Now that @david_cameron is on Twitter, why don't we ask him a few questions? #askdave

The #askdave hashtag has been hijacked ever since with tweets poking fun at the Prime Minister, or containing barbed retorts about current government policies.

The London Metropolitan Police Service recent hashtag has also been hijacked.

Last week the Autumn anti-burglary campaign was launched giving advice such as simple steps to protect your home. Several forces across the London Metropolitan area have been tweeting tips to prevent burglaries and safeguard your belongings:

5 Burglaries in the last 24hrs, remember #thinklikeaburglar to keep them out! http://ow.ly/ebhVv

Autumn Nights crime prevention campaign #thinklikeaburglar please click http://ow.ly/d/PcK

The 'think like a burglar' campaign might not be going the way that the Metropolitan police thought it would. They didn’t expect that the Twitterati would step in and have fun with the campaign:

Wait until police are distracted by a backfiring Twitter campaign, then clear out the neighbourhood. #thinklikeaburglar @metpoliceuk

A 10 y/o boy left alone at home will deter potential burglars with a series of ingenious and hilarious security measures. #thinklikeaburglar

Don't wear black and white stripy tops, an eye mask or carry a bag saying 'swag' on it, it's a dead giveaway. #thinklikeaburglar

#thinklikeaburglar Leave out a glass of sherry and a mince pie for them?

The hash tag thread is a bit like ‘Car Crash TV’ right now. You know you should not look at the scene in front of you but you just can not help yourself. Reading the tweets does uncover useful tips amongst the wit and humour to help you secure your home and property.

McDonalds, Tesco, RIM, Easyjet, or Qantas should have thought twice about creating campaigns with a hijack-able hashtag. All were hijacked and taken over for a while.

If a brand still wants to have a fun social campaign and is prepared for the backlash that it might receive then it might wish to go ahead and encourage use of a Twitter hashtag.

But it needs to make sure that it has the resources in place to deal with the hijack -- when it happens.

Editorial standards