The humble hashtag. It might not be big and it might not be flashy but it’s fair to say that Twitter’s original calling card has revolutionised the social media industry. Easy to use and essential, hashtags have transformed the way users find and share content and they’re now an integral part of not just Twitter but other social networks like Facebook and Google+ too.

Hashtags are a key element of Twitter and, when used correctly, can help to introduce your brand and content to a legion of potential new followers, customers and fans. In the past, hundreds of brands have jumped successfully on the trending hashtag bandwagon or created their own hashtags and benefited from increased exposure and attention… but there are some who have had a much rockier road to hashtag success.

We’ve all heard of them; the brands that have spotted a hashtag trending and, keen to cash in (quite literally!), have quickly thrown together a self-promotional tweet, attached said hashtag and excitedly pressed ‘tweet’ – only to find themselves in a bath-load of hot water. Or the brands that hurriedly created their own hashtag as part of their social strategy and failed to think twice before unleashing their creation to the social-stratosphere, only to be left red-faced and facing a very public social backlash.

when hashtags go wrong

Here are five of the best (or worst!) hashtag howlers we’ve come across at The Social Penguin:

1. Blackberry: Want to work for the smartphone maker Blackberry? You’d better apply for some ermm…. #RIMJobs then! Yes, really! OK, so Blackberry used to run under the parent brand “Research In Motion” but really, you’d have thought that at least one employee might have noticed the obvious connotations related to this seemingly innocent hashtag before they pressed ‘tweet’.

2. Waitrose: Keen to generate some nice user-generated content from its loyal customers, Waitrose launched the #WaitroseReasons campaign in 2012, encouraging followers to fill in the blanks of a “I shop at Waitrose because…” tweet – but it didn’t quite go to plan. The response? A shed-load of jokey tweets from amused followers who claimed to shop at Waitrose because, among other reasons, “the butler’s on holiday” and because “Clarissa’s pony just will NOT eat Asda Value Straw!”.

3. Susan Boyle: The best way to launch a new album? Give it its own hashtag of course. But perhaps the SuBo team should have thought twice before releasing the #susanalbumparty hashtag to the ever excitable public.

4. McDonalds: A bit like Waitrose’s tale of woe, McDonalds launched the infamous #McDStories campaign in January 2012 in an attempt to generate a public love-in with the brand and generate some “good news stories”. Needless to say, the resulting tweets were far from complimentary….

5. Entennman: In the midst of the recent controversial Casey Anthony murder trial, American bakery Entennman decided to get involved with the trending #notguilty hashtag by tweeting: “Who’s #notguilty about eating all the tasty treats they want?!” It goes without saying that a hasty apology soon followed…

Think we’ve missed out any major hashtag disasters? Leave us a comment below.