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When a hashtag gets hijacked

I never know how much to write about what goes on behind the scenes in the mommyblogger world.  While a lot of bloggers do read Selfish Mom, the majority are moms looking for some light reading.  Frankly I could fill an entire blog about the drama behind the blogs, but I usually just stay away from it.

Doing this full time is definitely a job, and it’s also a privilege.  I get a lot of free stuff, I get free trips, and I get access to people I wouldn’t otherwise have access to.  In the beginning I was giddy about it all.  I was amazed that there was this whole world of marketing to moms that I hadn’t known existed.  But then as I got more involved, I stopped referring to the stuff as “free” because it’s not.  It involves my time, and my effort.  And I’m not going to try to tell you for a second that it’s hard.  It’s interesting, and fun, and I get a little thrill from being able to do things and go places that most people can’t.  But it’s not “free.”  Even if I don’t feel an obligation to the company, I do feel an obligation to my blog – if I don’t write about what I’m doing, I don’t get readers.  If I don’t get readers, I don’t get advertisers or new opportunities.  If I don’t get compensated – and I’m talking about cold hard cash here, not products – then this becomes an incredibly indulgent and expensive hobby.

When I see tweets and blog posts from other bloggers on trips, my first thought is always “Why wasn’t I invited?” because access is like currency in the mommyblogging world.  And my second thought is always “Good for them.”  I’ve been really impressed by how companies have been willing to listen to real moms lately.  And we’re courted, and flown in to fun places, and plied with food and free stuff.  In exchange of course, I have to deal with the logistics of making sure that my kids and other obligations are taken care of, whether I’m gone for a few hours or a few days.  But it’s worth it.

I’m an infant in terms of the mommyblogging world.  I’ve been blogging (on my own blogs) for about two years.  But I’ve come pretty far in that time, and I thought I’d discovered all of the pitfalls.  There are lots of critics who don’t like that a lot of blogging now centers on products and advertising, and I’m at peace with that.  I set out almost from the beginning to make money from this, and I’m proud of what I’ve done, and I know I’ll never have the respect of that group of writers, the ones who do it just for the love of writing.  To each her own.  More power to them.  And more advertisers for me.

What I didn’t expect was that by talking about a company, I’d be responsible for the entire history and practices of that company.  And it hasn’t happened to me yet, but it’s happening right now to a group of bloggers who are at a retreat with Nestle.  I don’t know where they are, I don’t know what exactly they’re doing.  But they did what I would have done: they started tweeting about what they were seeing and learning.  They’re using the hashtag #nestlefamily.  Hashtags are a way to keep up with a conversation on twitter.  You can see what’s happening with the #nestlefamily hashtag here. It’s gotten ugly.  Some people starting giving the #nestlefamily bloggers shit over Nestle’s worldwide practices, and it went downhill from there.

I’m not going to touch on the complaints, some of them valid, that are being brought up by the #nestlefamily critics.  That’s a different post, and frankly one I have no interest in writing.  What I’m interested in is the etiquette involved here, and whether the criticisms are misplaced.  I see Twitter as a big open house, and when you start a hashtag for something, it’s like saying “Hey, if you’re interested in this thing, come over here.”  And if you go over to that corner of the room and listen to what’s being said, and you have a problem with it, shouting at that corner of the room is just rude.  And that’s what the hashtag hijackers have done.  They’ve entered into a conversation and instead of trying to add to it, even critically, they’ve shouted at the people who started it and the people who went there to hear about Nestle.  If these critics were intent on changing the discussion, then the polite thing to do would have been to start a new hashtag, and tell the people in that corner of the room about it: “Hey, we disagree with what you’re doing.  So we’re going to take a few steps this way and whoever wants to join this new discussion, come over here with us.”

But that wouldn’t get attention!  That wouldn’t achieve controversy!  No, it’s a lot easier to shout.  And remember, I’m not saying that there shouldn’t have been criticism.  I’m just saying it shouldn’t have been shouted in the same corner as the original discussion, completely obfuscating the original intent of the hashtag.

The other issue is the role of the bloggers who go to these events.  I certainly don’t feel responsible for everything a company has done just because I like their products and have made it my job to tell other people about them.  And if someone on twitter does have questions about some practices, and I am lucky enough to get the ear of an executive, I’m certainly not going to voice those concerns if I’m being beaten up for attending the event in the first place.  And I’m also not going to go to an event and insult the people who invited me.  That’s rude, and it’s not productive.  And it’s not my job.  I’ve defined my job as talking about products, and my kids, and what’s going on in my life.  If I get interested about an issue I’ll pursue it (in a polite and respectful way), but yelling at me won’t achieve that.

So, eventually a senior VP from Nestle got on Twitter and started answering questions.  And he really had no choice – ignoring what was going on wasn’t a good option.  But it makes me a little pissed off that the shouters did have that one small victory, getting the ear of an executive by being incredibly rude.  I hope that they’re not given the same level of attention as people who are calmer and open to dialogue.

The next time I’m at an event, I’ll be tweeting and whrrling and blogging about it, and doing my job.  And if you shout at me, if you attempt to hijack my discussion with your agenda, I probably won’t listen.

Originally posted on Selfish Mom.  All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted.  Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.

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43 Responses to “When a hashtag gets hijacked”

  1. Loukia on September 30th, 2009 11:08 pm
    1

    First of all, I love the picture of you in your header! Secondly, I so need to figure out how to start getting free stuff and going to conferences and stuff. For real. I’m seriously missing out and I’ve been blogging for a few years!
    Third point – I breastfed my boys for 6 months each and then switched them over to Nestle Good Start formula which they love and drank happily. Happy, well-fed babies equal happy, well-rested mom. Whatever the controversy is with Nestle, I don’t think there is reason to get this worked up over it – like the attacks on other bloggers, etc. Blah, I hate that drama! I’m glad some great mommy bloggers are in LA right now discussing the ‘issues’ with them, though. Nice to see we have a voice. And it is nice that other bloggers have written posts about the ‘story’ so at least whoever wants to read more about it can. But the fighting is childish, at best.

  2. Amy on September 30th, 2009 11:14 pm
    2

    @Loukia – You know, I wish I knew the secret. I’m quite sure it’s not my writing! But it may be the attention I pay to reviews. I try to use the products for a while and integrate them into my life. I think that kind of attention to detail gets noticed. Or maybe I’m just lucky. I have not idea! :-)

    Where are you located? I think a lot of it may have to do with being able to go to the smaller events in NYC, and then when opportunities come up I’m already on the radar.

  3. Kristina Brooke on September 30th, 2009 11:42 pm
    3

    [edited for typos by author] I agree with you. I was writing a post about this too when I saw your tweet. I love your honesty and have decided that I am going to do what I feel is right for me when it comes to blogging and attending events. I went to the Disney African American Mom Mixer last year with some very strong and real concerns about the way they under-represent women of color. I shared my concerns with the execs and felt that my voice along with those of the other attendees were heard. The point is you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. My motto is connect with respect.

  4. Myrna on October 1st, 2009 12:07 am
    4

    Of course you’re right. I read the flare-up as it happened and the first thing I thought about (GeekMommy mentioned too) was the hijacking of the hashtag. I’m not sure anyone was paying attention to that aspect while the firestorm was raging. I did and I’m glad you wrote about it. I thought about it last night when I was live tweeting a meeting with Planned Parenthood. I guess it’s something we all need to think about and be prepared for.

  5. Boston Mamas on October 1st, 2009 12:58 am
    5

    I’ve found the negativity around all of this so sad. I was invited to the Nestle event and ultimately decided not to attend; I posted about the Nestle event, and how all of this impacts blogger relations in general here: http://popdiscourse.com/2009/09/on-bloggers-breastfeeding-formula-morality-changenestle-family-event/

    -Christine

  6. Lisa on October 1st, 2009 1:06 am
    6

    My problem isn’t with the bloggers, they can do what they want and my guess is most don’t have a clue what Nestle is doing, don’t think anyone is a big fan of child labor. But sometimes awareness comes with a price and well I think to save the children that Nestle uses and abuses deserve our help. Pretty sure a hijacked twitter hashtag is more than okay when we are talking about child abuse.

  7. Amy on October 1st, 2009 1:09 am
    7

    @Lisa – No big surprise here I’m sure, but I completely disagree. Whatever the topic, hijacking somebody else’s twitter conversation isn’t right, and attacking bloggers for attending an event is downright wrong. The same critical conversation could have been had with a different hashtag.

  8. Lisa on October 1st, 2009 1:30 am
    8

    @Amy – I respect your opinion but for me when you are abusing kids all niceness goes out the window. And to be clear I mean the fact that they buy chocolate from the Ivory Coast not the breastfeeding issue that is a different issue as is the fact that they are hurting our environment and the people of a small town in Maine.

  9. Amy on October 1st, 2009 1:46 am
    9

    @Lisa – When niceness goes out the window listening jumps out after.

  10. Robyn on October 1st, 2009 1:55 am
    10

    WOW Amy, I like your post! Very valid points. I’ve been wondering all day what the story was with the whole Nestle thing. Learned some new things though, will research to see if it’s all true or not, but regardless of peoples opinions, whether it’s about children OR NOT, a new hashtag should have been created. That’s my two cents.

    Robyn (YouDreamIDream) on twitter :)

  11. Mike Brady on October 1st, 2009 1:56 am
  12. Amy on October 1st, 2009 1:58 am
    12

    @Mike Brady – Hi Mike, I don’t mind too much you plugging your own related post, but you could at least take the time to comment on mine in the process.

  13. Lisa on October 1st, 2009 1:58 am
    13

    @Amy – I think I should reword this you can still be kind and not attack people but as far as respecting a hashtag that I don’t see as being important anymore. I hear earlier moms were being attacked for not breastfeeding that is very wrong! But calling Nestle out on their hashtag seems just fine to me.

  14. Amy on October 1st, 2009 2:02 am
    14

    @Lisa – I think it depends on whether you engage the people who started the conversation, or try to take over the hashtag. And clearly this was an outright hijacking.

  15. Jennifer Taggart, TheSmartMama on October 1st, 2009 2:17 am
    15

    I agree with you that name calling and “snark” was inappropriate. On the other hand, a lot of the blogs and tweet represented a very civil exchange of ideas, comments and information. And that’s really the point of the social media. It is a conversation. To the extent that different viewpoints were and are aired, it was and is a productive exchange. I think it is fair of social media users to question a company’s record – social, environmental, labor, whatever – particularly when the company solicits social media users. I am sure that Nestle hoped that the attendees would talk about the company – the fact that the conversation wasn’t what Nestle wanted doesn’t make it wrong. I do agree with you that bloggers aren’t reponsible for a company’s record. However, a company’s record may well change how a blogger feels about a company. I certainly don’t want to financially support companies that don’t embody the values I hold dear so I am more than glad to learn that information. It lets me save my money and my praise for those companies that attempt to uphold certain values. Twitter users trying to educate others about Nestle’s track record in a civil manner are using Twitter to effect change – a fair use of Twitter. I disagree with the premise about the hijacking of a hashtag (barring spammers) because there are no private conversations on Twitter. It may seem like party crashing, but it just can’t be. Tweets about a product or company are fair game for questions about the product or company.

  16. Mike Brady on October 1st, 2009 2:18 am
    16

    @Amy – Sorry Amy, I’ve just got up early in the UK to see what happened and there is a lot of catching up to do, so I am just checking people are aware of our position – my blog explains the need.

  17. Mike Brady on October 1st, 2009 3:08 am
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    It is a shame that the furore on Twitter means the focus is on that rather than the dishonest statements that Nestlé has made – some of which were relayed in Tweets.

    My starting point when people accept Nestlé’s hospitality for events like this is that they were unaware and to hope that once aware they will be able to take an objective look at the evidence and report on both that and how they have been misled. I think it is more productive if those with concerns about Nestlé’s baby milk marketing and other issues do the same.

    The end result of this furore is summed up in your comment: “I’m not going to touch on the complaints, some of them valid, that are being brought up by the #nestlefamily critics. That’s a different post, and frankly one I have no interest in writing.”

    I have sympathy with your objection to bloggers being slammed for being there if they were unaware, though surely raising the ethical concerns is legitimate and useful to those who found themselves in a position to question executives.

    When Nestlé came online, Baby Milk Action offered to take part in a Tweet debate directly with the company – we had a series of debates from 2001 – 2004 in the UK, at schools, universities and before trade unions, but Nestlé lost them all and now refuses to speak if we are in the room. Bloggers at this event relayed Nestlé saying it is open to dialogue, not so. We are always civil with Nestlé at debates, but it is not just with us: it also refused to attend a European Parliament Public Hearing, a tribunal in Switzerland into trade union busting and refuses to even set out its term and conditions for participating in an independent, expert tribunal into claim and counter claim. There has been no response from Nestlé regarding a Tweet debate, nor answers to the questions I posted on Twitter in response to Nestlé’s offer to answer them.

    Nestlé has had its claims relayed by bloggers without investigation or criticism and because some comments amongst the legitimate responses have been over the top it seems that investigation will not now take place, at least on this blog. Which is a victory to Nestlé from which we should all learn.

    For Baby Milk Action’s take on the event see:
    boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2009/09/nestle-family-twitters.html

  18. Katja of Skimbaco on October 1st, 2009 8:05 am
    18

    I frankly think that the bloggers in the event are much more likely to get their and the community’s voices heard than the ones shouting at Twitter. Taking a trip or product doesn’t necessary mean that you are a brand advocate – many bloggers are just trying to get the best content for their readers and now they are getting their questions answered face to face at the event.

    Great post Amy!

  19. Denise on October 1st, 2009 8:17 am
    19

    # hijacking drives me a little batty in general, or more batty than I already am. When I look at the #nestlefamily feed it’s impossible to tell what, exactly, is going on. There are so many different factions, all screaming about their own particular issues. It’s become white noise, and it became white noise so quickly that I didn’t even bother to follow it.

    Are we mad because Nestle is sponsoring some bloggers and the bloggers are tweeting about the event? Some people seem to be disturbed by that. Are we made because Nestle buys chocolate from the Ivory Coast? Yep, seems some of us are.Are we mad because Nestle makes formula and gasp advertises it? Yep, looks that way.

    With at least three issues flying through the twitterverse, the only thing that seems to be coming through loud and clear is that it’s ok to bash individual bloggers/tweeters for attending an event with a company that we don’t like.

    I’m not a bashing kind of woman, so the whole thing bothers me. You want to support a cause, stand up for what you believe in, share info with people who may be interested – then do that, but do it smartly. Otherwise, you’ve alienated me before you’ve even gotten me to click the first link.

    People scare me. Have I mentioned that? (Also, this is why I try really hard not to join # campaigns. The hijacking bothers me and I don’t think it’s an effective way to group content.)

  20. Tiffany on October 1st, 2009 9:31 am
    20

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Every company has had their own “oh crap” incident along the way. If I buy a candy bar in 2009 though, that doesn’t mean I support the “oh crap” incident in the SEVENTIES. I’m all for boycotting, when it’s done intelligently and peacefully and directed at the right person. For example, I don’t like the direction Burger King has gone with their advertising, so I won’t go there. Should you eat a Whopper? Eh, that’s your call. Granted, the issues surrounding the Nestle fiasco are much bigger…..but they’re getting murky amongst the nastiness…

  21. Mike Brady on October 1st, 2009 9:38 am
    21

    I’ve never posted on Twitter before this thread came to my attention from the traffic it was generating to Baby Milk Action’s websites, so I don’t know what etiquette turns fair comment and useful information into hi-jacking. I think it is great that the bloggers and others at the event are aware of the concerns about Nestlé as a result of this. I have already said I prefer people to focus on Nestlé and the issues – the author of this blog says she is not now going to write about the valid concerns raised because of her twitter experience, and campaigners should learn from that.

    Outside of cyberspace there are many instances here in the UK where we hear of Nestlé sponsoring events to try to influence people about its practices and we do what we can to raise awareness of those if we have the change – politely and calmly, but effectively.

    On our issue of baby milk marketing, targeting Nestlé and embarrassing it is helping to save lives. For example, in 1994 the World Health Assembly adopted a Resolution on the appropriate age for introducing complementary foods. Nestlé refused to change its labeling, despite the fact that evidence shows early introduction of complementary foods is detrimental to health, particularly in resource poor countries. We wrote to Nestlé, raised it in debates (which Nestlé now refuses to attend) ran letter writing campaigns and went back to the World Health Assembly, which kept reiterating its position.

    Nestlé finally changed its policy during a week of demonstrations in 2003, nine years after the Resolution was first adopted. Those demonstrations got the issue onto the national news in the UK and Nestlé’s home country of Switzerland and the embarrassment prompted Nestlé to make a statement saying it would change its labels. It was typically dishonest, saying it was ‘taking the lead’ in making the required change, but a breakthrough all the same. It took nine years of campaigning and a willingness to stand up and make a noise about Nestlé malpractice. Everyone who took part can be proud that there are no doubt people alive today who would not otherwise be.
    http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press17may03.html

    I regret that a few over the top comments were made on Twitter and that those seem to be blinding some to the real issue of Nestlé malpractice and the corrections to its untrue statements that I and others have posted, but the more embarrassed and in the spotlight Nestlé is when it tries to improve its image, the better it is.

  22. Miss Britt on October 1st, 2009 9:44 am
    22

    I have absolutely no side in this “controversy”.

    BUT – the idea that protesters should be “polite” and follow “etiquette” is ridiculous.

    If a crazy person stands in front of The White House with a sign that says “THE PRESIDENT IS AN ALIEN!”, he has that right. He doesn’t have to be polite. But it doesn’t get any traction unless there is a message other people relate to and a little more organization.

    By the same token, if I gather 100 of my friends in my backyard and we politely stand up with signs and say “WE WANT HEALTH CARE REFORM!” – that accomplishes nothing.

    This is not hijacking.

    Twitter is a PUBLIC forum.

    Showing up at your neighborhood BBQ party with pamphlets is hijacking.

  23. kakaty on October 1st, 2009 9:51 am
    23

    I have no problem with Nestle, blogger junkets and the like. But when a company provides a hashtag (#nestlefamily) they are either directly or indirectly asking the attendees to tweet about the event. A hashtag brings the entire conversation together in one place – being on Twitter and using a hashtag invites others to join the conversation, good or bad. If you can’t take the heat for your choices, don’t advertise them on Twitter (think Dooce/Maytag). (And in case i’m not clear here – I’m talking about the company, not the bloggers…Nestle has been in this game long enough and has had several high-profile backlashes to know that the haters would show up at the twitter party).

    The thing that irks me about this entire Nestle thing is that the attendees were tweeting quotes from the Execs at the company, like this one:
    “Best way to reach out to people is through social media. We want to answer questions. We are like everybody else.” SVP Scott
    But it wasn’t until hours later that NestleFamily actually created a Twitter account to respond to some of the backlash. They were saying one thing and doing another and expecting the bloggers/tweeters to answer to Nestle’s critics on Twitter. Very not fair to the bloggers attending, and certainly not worth a trip and some steaks.

    I think this entire episode is yet another example of how companies are trying to use bloggers to get the word out about their products but they aren’t involved in Social Media themselves. It was a marketing/PR/Outreach FAIL for Nestle (and whatever PR firm set this up).

    I think it’s fine for people to join the discussion via the hashtag…that’s why it’s there and the inherent power of Twitter. No ones owns a hashtag, so no one can hijack it. They exist so you can add your comment to all the others and have your voice be a part of the conversation at large. I don’t think its okay for a company to expect something from their attendees but not do the same thing themselves.

    PS – Devil’s advocate here: I found this blog via the #nestlefamily hashtag…does that mean you hijacked it to bring traffic to your site?

  24. kakaty on October 1st, 2009 9:56 am
    24

    Okay – a clarification: Just looked at my Twitter feed, YOU did not hashtag this, but someone I follow did in a RT. My apologies.

  25. kim/hormone-colored days on October 1st, 2009 11:59 am
    25

    Good insights, Amy. And in case I didn’t mention it earlier, I love the new look.

    I do think it’s fair to insert oneself into conversations on twitter, but I agree this whole thing has turned into a true hijacking where it’s impossible to tell what’s what. I also think some people have crossed the line and as you point out, been so rude that the best response is to ignore them. If you haven’t checked out Christine Koh’s post (linked in comments above), please do. There is a great discussion there about why bloggers attend events. Are they enthusiastic brand reps, educated consumers journalists? Most companies lack a clear contract (even an implied one, IMHO) when they bring bloggers to these events.

    Also, in a relevant piece of shameless self-promo, I have an article at MediaPost that is in line with your thinking–brands would do well to hire bloggers. Cereal samples and even swanky free trips don’t pay the mortgage. http://tinyurl.com/y8e7b2l It’s time to take it to the next level.

    I’ll balance out my self-promo by linking to this post on my blog. ;-)

  26. melissa from girlymama on October 1st, 2009 1:15 pm
    26

    well said, amy.
    while i understand what the ‘hijackers’ were trying to do – bring attention to something that needed addressing – i felt bad that the bloggers who attended the event felt personally attacked for going. if i had been invited and been able to make it, i would have totally gone, having no idea about all this controversy. i would have been shocked.
    i’m not a pr person. i don’t represent the companies i blog about and have experiences with. i’m just a mom who is sharing her personal experiences with the world via her blog/twitter/etc. that’s all i ever claim to be, so i’m not sure how bashing a company on my blog would actually accomplish anything. (except me deleting your comments.)
    and thank you – the experiences/products we receive are NOT free. writing up events/products takes time and effort (if you do it right!)

  27. Amy on October 1st, 2009 6:29 pm
    27

    @Jennifer Taggart, TheSmartMama – OK, suppose that a Christian group talking about teenage abstinence started a hashtag, #teenabstinence. And all went fine until Planned Parenthood started using the #teenabstinence hashtag to talk about birth control. Would that be right? I personally think that the teenagers should hear what PP has to say, but to hijack the #teenabsinence tag to do it would be wrong. It’s like bait-and-switch. Someone goes to the tag looking for information on one thing, and gets something totally different and unintended. And if that is coupled with an incredible amount of rudeness, along with people attending an event getting verbally attacked for attending, that takes it to a whole other level of wrongness. It’s like inviting yourself over to my house so that you can bitch at me.

  28. Amy on October 1st, 2009 6:31 pm
    28

    @Denise – “Otherwise, you’ve alienated me before you’ve even gotten me to click the first link.” Exactly. No matter how well-written or convincing a post may be, I’m not going to click on it if it’s coming from someone bashing the bloggers for being there.

  29. Amy on October 1st, 2009 6:37 pm
    29

    @kakaty – Actually, I’m pretty sure I used the hashtag when I first posted it too. So no, I wouldn’t consider that hijacking. I suggested in my post: “Hey, we disagree with what you’re doing. So we’re going to take a few steps this way and whoever wants to join this new discussion, come over here with us.” So I definitely wouldn’t think it was hijacking to pimp something that agreed with the intent of the original discussion.

  30. Amy on October 1st, 2009 6:40 pm
    30

    @kim/hormone-colored days – :-) I did read your article, and I agree. I think that will be the next evolution: hiring bloggers to help deal with bloggers. Because frankly, not only do the companies not know what to do with us, I’m not even sure. It’s all evolving.

  31. Ohmommy on October 5th, 2009 11:36 am
    31

    Thanks. I just found a new blog to follow.

  32. That Danielle on October 5th, 2009 4:54 pm
    32

    A hashtag is not copyrighted therefore everyone is entitled to use it however they wish. By using the term “hashtag highjacking” you are implying that the tag is being used for evil. Just because you don’t agree with another viewpoint on a topic doesn’t make it evil.

    What happened with #nestlefamily is that a brand created a hashtag and didn’t realize that they didn’t own it. When its use was spun out of their control, they pretty much ignored it and let their fans duke it out. That’s not evil, that’s democratic.

    If we allow brands to create hashtags and control their use by not allowing anyone to say anything against them, we’re giving them license to take over Twitter too. I don’t think ANYONE would agree with that.

    Here’s an example of what I think what many of us would disagree with – porn or gambling spammers using any tag to promote completely off-topic ventures.

  33. Amy on October 5th, 2009 5:21 pm
    33

    @That Danielle – With all due respect, I think you’ve misread and misinterpreted what I’ve written. I never suggested that companies should have outright control of a hashtag. I’m talking about what we should do, as individuals, to be respectful of conversations that we haven’t started and to not steer people to our conversation who come to a hashtag for a different conversation. It’s about getting a message across, not turning people off by bad practices.

  34. Jake Aryeh Marcus on October 5th, 2009 5:47 pm
    34

    The fact that Twitter is entirely public space is problematic for many. I have been in hashed conversations that became so overwhelmed by Tweets that were far from what the creators of the hash intended, that the conversation needed to move to more controlled space. Starting or creating a hash does not give you any control over it so even inventing a definition for the term “hashtag hijacking” (any of us can decide what that term means) does not alter the reality of how Twitter works. I found the #NestleFamily Tweetstream by seeing a few people I follow suddenly start posting old news about Nestle with that hash. My impression of the original “hijacking” was an honest attempt to share information about Nestle’s corporate practices with people who were publicly discussing accepting gifts and a trip from Nestle.

    Hashtags are often tools of political organizing and social change. What happens may not be what the creator of the hash intended but that is how it works. Those who went to the Nestle Family event made a choice, then another choice to discuss it publicly. If they did not wish to be criticized, they should not have been public about what they were doing or should only have been public in space they control (blogs or chatrooms). On Twitter, conversations are defined by the participants. The #NestleFamily discussion was “owned” by all of the participants – regardless of where anyone stood on Nestle. It served as a resource to many who knew little or nothing about the issues before. It raised many issues about corporate practices, blogger ethics, and public discourse that are important. I think it was and continues to be valuable even though you may not be happy about how it went.

  35. Candace on October 5th, 2009 5:56 pm
    35

    Now, I do not think it is right to verbally attack the bloggers who attended. Nor do I think just shouting “baby killers” is a good contribution to a conversation. People who are obnoxious (on either side of the coin) will be unfollowed and blocked and eventually just go elsewhere as they are ignored.

    But a hashtag is a public conversation. Not a chat room, not a controlled webpage, not a private party.

    And by creating a hashtag on twitter, you are inherently inviting ALL of twitter into your conversation.

    When a company enters the social media space, they are not buying an advertisement, they are entering a public conversation. They have to know that may mean some things are said that they do not like.

    If companies do not want to generate conversation in an open forum, then Twitter is not the medium for them. They can create blogs or forums and only allow approved comments.

    Nestle created the conversation hashtag #NestleFamily to increase visibility for the event and to get (FREE!) attention on Twitter. And it did…just not in the way they had hoped.

    If I, for example, love tea and think it is better than coffee, and tweet #teaisbetter. Why would there be a problem with you replying that “I prefer coffee and do not think #teaisbetter”. Now, if you got on and said “New York Yankees RULE #teaisbetter” just because my hashtag was getting traffic, that would be poor netiquette, in my book.

    Tweeting your opinions on topic is not against any online etiquette I have ever come across. Some people had the opinion that Nestle is a great, family-friendly company and others held the opinion that its business practices are unethical. Both opinions have their place in an open dialogue…which is what a hashtag is. It is not a private event, conversation, or meeting.
    If people were rude, the community will police itself and ignore those who can’t communicate constructively. I’ve been involved in online discussions for over 15 years now and that’s always what happens.

  36. Amy on October 5th, 2009 6:06 pm
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    @Candace – I’m with you: “They’ve entered into a conversation and instead of trying to add to it, even critically, they’ve shouted at the people who started it and the people who went there to hear about Nestle.”

    I’m not talking about controlling conversations, or only agreeing with the opinions of those who started the conversation. I don’t think I could have written it any plainer than I did. To use your example, replying “I like coffee and do not think #teaisbetter” is fine. But what a lot of people did with the Nestle conversation was the equivalent of posting over and over “Tea is disgusting and kills children. #teaisbetter” What I’m saying is that there are people who add to a conversation, no matter their opinion (I love debate), and there are people who just run in and shout a message. And that message gets lost in the rudeness of the delivery. Every single one of the people saying that Nestle had bad business practices could have had a great point, but I wasn’t listening because they were bashing the bloggers and shouting.

  37. That Danielle on October 5th, 2009 6:16 pm
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    @Amy – Being considerate of a conversation is one thing but I don’t consider a conversation started by a brand as an organic one and therefore not subject to the same kind of respect you might afford an individual. For example, I think it’s would be pretty gross if someone used a hashtag to bash a particular person, but a brand is totally fair game in a public arena such as twitter. It’s not the same as crashing a party which is what you imply by saying a hashtag is an open house. It’s more like a public park where people are free to gather and shout whatever they want.

    I completely disagree that steering the conversation to another hashtag is the proper or polite thing to do. For one, who gets to decide when a conversation gets off-topic enough to create one? In this case, it was the people who didn’t want people disagreeing with them – it had little to do with the actual topic at hand which primarily was about the brand in general and guess what, a brand’s business practices are ON TOPIC with discussion of a brand.

    And as one of the protesters, I can say that creating a new hashtag-led conversation would be an extremely ineffective way of communicating an opposing viewpoint on anything because the more people who see the hasthtag are going to be exposed to different viewpoints. I DO completely agree that a hashtag should not be used to attack people or be the subject of hateful speech but it went both ways (and to clarify, the worst hateful speech I witnessed came from people who didn’t attend the event but did it the name of the brand, not against the brand).

  38. Mike Brady on October 5th, 2009 6:51 pm
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    Being rude to the bloggers who went – at least some of whom say they didn’t know about this issue – is not only wrong, in my opinion, it is counter productive as it puts people off listening to the message and provides those who don’t want to listen an excuse for labeling all campaigners as aggressive. It also diverts the conversation into who said what when and should they have – rather than the real issue: Nestlé malpractice.

    That said, Nestlé is one of the world’s most aggressive companies. It didn’t become the world’s largest food company by accident, but because of that aggression. Scratch the surface of its business practices and you see how it tries to steam roller its way over competitors, governments, regulators and anyone who opposes its growth – and remember the Chairman has promised shareholders a minimum of 5% organic growth per year. It views campaigners and the boycott in the same way, investing heavily in deception and diverting criticism. It has an anti-boycott team and a former member of the UK secret service (MI6) running a spying operation. It’s not the sort of company to suddenly see the error of its ways after a nice chat.

    Nestlé only backs down – as it has done on numerous issues – when it judges continued refusal is doing it more harm than its unethical business practices warrant. It has done so on Saturday over its sanction busting in Zimbabwe after typically dismissing calls for action when these were first raised. See:
    http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2009/09/nestle-zimbabwe.html

    So its hash tag PR disaster has been brilliant. Although we only became aware of this due to the traffic coming to our sites, targeting Nestlé’s hash tag has similarities with demonstrating outside events, generating publicity and forcing changes. Here’s just one example from national demonstrations we held in the UK over a week in 2003:
    http://www.babymilkaction.org/press/press17may03.html

    A difference is that when Baby Milk Action is present at a demonstration we can keep order. When we are picketing an event, handing out leaflets, we are often thanked by those who attend for arming them with information to put Nestlé on the spot. But we don’t own this issue, or the boycott – and there are boycott calls over more than baby food marketing See: http://www.nestlecritics.org/

    But this was Nestlé’s party and ruining its party is a way to get its attention, gain publicity and raise awareness. Thanks to the Nestlé hash tag PR disaster many more people are picking up on Nestle-Free Week: 26 October – 1 November. If you don’t want to boycott year round, at least see if you can avoid Nestle that week. See:
    http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2009/09/nestle-free-week.html

    Nestlé should be embarrassed whenever and wherever possible in my view. But then, I do things like this:
    http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2007/03/protest-whirlwind-rattles-ethical.html

    There’s this opportunity coming up in a few weeks, around Halloween. But my appeal is, keep the focus on Nestlé. If someone doesn’t want to boycott, move on and tell someone else. In fact you may find you can tell 100 more people about Nestlé, the majority of whom will listen and go on and tell others, in the time spent arguing about side issues with someone who just doesn’t want to know.

  39. Deb on the Rocks on October 5th, 2009 8:18 pm
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    I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I ultimately think that in a brand-originated hashtag convo, the tag wasn’t meant to define the conversation amongst the tweeters, it was meant to add branding to messages going out to the whole stream. So that when an attendee says “I’m loving these Christmas crafts, yummy! #nestlefamily, a casual viewer receives the ad. This is very, very different than conversational uses of Twitter. The anti-Nestle tweets were interrupting ad streams with alternate information. I think that is acceptable.

    I also saw rudeness on both sides, and there is no excuse for that.

    Good dialogue you are having…

  40. Candace on October 5th, 2009 10:35 pm
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    @Amy – By starting a conversation on Twitter, Nestle is in effect asking the entire Twitterverse “So, what do you think?”

    If Nestle did not like the answer, that does not imply rudeness on the part of those answering.

    While I don’t agree with “random” shouting into the hashtag, that’s not what I saw happening. I saw conversation and a back and forth. Yes, there was some randomness and some rudeness. I keep hearing that it was from “fellow mommy bloggers” and not just random trolls or that it constituted “most” or even “many” of the “protest” tweets. I want examples and numbers.

    Otherwise, it is just impressions–and my impression is that the majority of the involved people conducted themselves well. There were exceptions on both “sides”, certainly, but I really didn’t see a whole lot of “bashing”. I could of course be wrong but that just wasn’t what I saw.

    And ultimately, even if you are right that these random or disrespectful tweets constituted most of the anti-Nestle conversation, I still see no obligation on the part of those who were engaged in a discussion to go elsewhere. If we’re having an open group discussion in a public place, there is no reason dissenters should have to go off somewhere else.

  41. That Danielle on October 5th, 2009 10:46 pm
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    @Candace – Amen! You put it perfectly.

  42. The Twitter #hashtag Tango: Dance at Your Own Risk :: 3 Green Angels on October 23rd, 2009 1:52 pm
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    [...] to be life guards. While one blogger calls the hashtag created for the Nestle family event as  hijacked others wonder why Nestle wasn’t more responsible. Given Nestle’s history, if bloggers [...]