What Marketers Can Learn from #BlackoutTuesday and #ChallengeAccepted Hashtag Campaigns

In this age of social media and the 24/7 news cycle, businesses must tread carefully with the content and timing of their posts. In particular, when it comes to hashtag campaigns, good intentions can get lost in translation. A well meaning campaign can become corrupted by the public’s perceptions and interpretations. This reality confronted social media marketers twice in 2020 alone — first with #BlackoutTuesday and again with #ChallengeAccepted. 

The former was a hashtag campaign initially created for music industry professionals, which asked them to hit pause on their operations for one day in an effort to elevate black voices during the massive social unrest sparked by the police killing of George Floyd. According to Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, the music marketers who came up with the idea, the campaign was developed to hold the music industry accountable for its contribution to the oppression of black people, a demographic from which it gains massive profits.

Through an unintended game of social media telephone, this message became hugely distorted. The original hashtag written by Thomas and Agyemang was actually #TheShowMustBePaused, but somewhere along its journey through the social media pipeline, it became #BlackoutTuesday. Using this not-so-close variation, individuals across Instagram began posting black squares to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

While the intention here was undoubtedly well-meaning, the outcome did more harm than good. In addition to using the hashtag #BlackoutTuesday, many users added #BlackLivesMatter or #BLM to their captions. This had a devastating effect on the movement. Hashtag campaigns designed to share and consume important information regarding ongoing protests and other critical grassroots efforts were suddenly taken up by mute, black space.

More recently, the hashtag campaign #ChallengeAccepted came under similar scrutiny. On the surface, the campaign seemed innocuous; women posted a black and white selfie and then nominated other women to do the same as a way of lifting each other up. However, this vague attempt at empowerment was not the original intent of the campaign. In fact, this campaign has gone through several iterations.

In 2016, the same hashtag was used along with black-and-white photos in an effort to spread awareness about cancer. It’s been suggested that the hashtag’s reemergence in 2020, and its relation to female empowerment, stemmed from the surge of feminist posts that followed Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s impassioned speech to Congress about our society’s treatment of women. 

However, women in Turkey had been posting black and white photos of themselves and other women in order to shed light on the topic of femicide, a disturbing epidemic in their country. When looking at this “challenge” through that lens, it’s understandable why what it morphed into was widely criticized, regardless of participants’ innocent intentions. 

While these two missteps come from social justice movements, we can glean and apply these lessons and tips to all types of businesses trying to create successful hashtag campaigns: 

  1. Be clear on the intentions of your hashtag campaign.

Before you begin to develop content around your campaign, ask yourself: “What am I asking of my participants?” Maybe you want to start a conversation around a topic relevant to your business or see posts from customers sporting your product, visiting your venue or store, or indulging in your food and drink. Whatever it may be, make sure your call to action is clearly defined for your followers. This will minimize confusion and leave less room for misinterpretation.

  1. Tune in to what people are saying.

Beyond coming up with snappy taglines and scroll-stopping imagery, it’s essential to keep your finger on the social media pulse. Ask yourself, “What are my customers talking about?” “What are they angry about?” “What are they asking for answers on?” Once you have a deep understanding of how your customers are feeling, specifically towards your product or service, you’re less likely to have your well-intended campaign run away from you.

  1. Always strive to be unique.

While it may be tempting to jump on the bandwagon of another popular hashtag to get your business seen, this is always a mistake. Not only could your posts have unintentional social implications, but the efficacy of your campaign will be nearly impossible to measure.

Survey the current landscape. While no one can fully control what happens to a hashtag once it’s released into the social media universe, you can take concrete steps to boost your campaign’s chances for success.

Whether you’re a newbie or seasoned boss in need of an outside opinion, K.B. Concepts can help you achieve your social media goals. Give us a call to chat about your next campaign, and what we can offer your business!


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