In the age of social media, hashtags can serve as a powerful tool to get publicity and share your message with millions of people around the world. But like all powerful tools, they should be utilized with extreme caution.
Enter the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), whose recent social media campaign #NameOurShip became somewhat of a double-edged sword for the organization’s communications team. Last week, NERC turned to the Internet asking people to suggest a name for the UK’s newest £200m polar research vessel.
To NERC’s delight, the online poll quickly went viral, drawing a lot of attention to the organization’s new endeavor. What is not so great, however, is that the leader among the proposed names is “RSS Boaty McBoatface,” which has accumulated almost 78,000 votes to date.
Suddenly, NERC found itself in a very precarious situation: it can either name a royal research ship Boaty McBoatface, or face likely criticism and social media backlash for dismissing the popular vote.
This is not the first time a viral hashtag has come back to haunt the organization that created it. Many brands and organizations have famously been burned by open online polls and Twitter hashtag campaigns that went wrong. These include McDonald’s #McDstories and the New York Police Department’s #myNYPD.
Social media campaigns can quickly spiral out of control and create serious PR crises for the brands they aim to promote. For this reason, such media outreach must be pre-planned and include specific contingency plans should the conversation take a dangerous turn.
What do you think of NERC’s communications strategy and its decision to crowdsource a name for its ship? Should the organization stick with “RSS Boaty McBoatface,” or ignore the poll results? Share your thoughts in the comments section.