Social media has created a wealth of opportunity for folks of many different walks of life. Doing business online has become something of a multidimensional appropriation of marketing, psychology and sales. That being said, time and time again we are shown that while social media can be used to do great things, it can also be used to embrace the more negative side of humanity. When something goes wrong (or someone perceives it as such) you can be rest assured, the denizens of social media will be chatting about it.

The term that has been coined is #bashtags. Basically, when social media users have a problem with something (as they do every hour on the hour) they create a hashtag or a series of hashtags to appropriately tag their dismay. This results in a hive mentality often attacking or trolling as one annoying collective of ego stroking attention whores. The only purpose of complaining about something publicly is not to be a catalyst for change, but rather to garner attention. While many like to think they are furthering a cause, or doing social good, mostly they are yelling “fire” in a crowded movie theater.

Regardless, #bashtags can provide a service. Whether exposing obvious corruption, exposing media failure on truthful reporting, alerting the masses to terrible customer service, holding people accountable for bigotry and other socially undesirable behavior or simply humorously pointing out the hidden failures of an event — #bashtags aren’t just ways for horrible people to be horrible. They are ways for all of us to be delightfully horrible. So which #bashtag is your preferred method of speaking your mind in a generally social media but not socially acceptable manner?

Because of the cause

One of the most interesting pieces of the social media mentality has been that of causation. Basically, it appears that everyone suddenly has an interest in every cause that pops up on social media. While this can be good for the causes, this also breeds a peculiar brand of #bashtags. It is not that people are against the cause, they just generally don’t care about the cause and using a heavy dose of sarcasm will take to Twitter and other platforms to bash the cause and those participating in it.

Brands or official accounts leading the causes are best to stay out of the fray and handle everything negative in stride. Responses bordering on the benign (rather than condescending) are recommended, as eventually the detractors will get bored and move on to the next thing to bash publicly. This type of cause bashing really only happens on social media, as unless you are a standing protestor full of hate, most of these causes are undeserving of negative attention and wouldn’t get bashed on the street. There has got to be a psychology thesis in here somewhere.

Failure of Context

As the recent #cancelcolbert campaign proved, context is not something that is always taken into account when creating a #bashtag campaign. Rather, it is based around an immediate reaction without discovering all the facts (kind of like FOX News most nights). Context is everything, and social media doesn’t always lend itself to providing clear context. This is research that people have to do on their own, which they clearly don’t do.

Brands are especially susceptible to becoming prey to lack of context since any one tweet can easily be perceived to be what it is not. While most out of context tweets from brands resulting in shit storms are one-off mistakes, some are just plain misinterpreted. While it’d be nice to live in a world where context is explained without being implicit — that is just not the case. Context wrapped around an offending tweet or social post is out of context itself. Context is a continuing conundrum that should never be taken out of context.

Hilarity ensures when the #fail is found

For all the dark sides of #bashtags, the side of absolute failure can be the most entertaining. Usually this is at the expense of a brand or organization that doesn’t fit our standards of doing business or otherwise. Usually the social outburst isn’t entirely negative, but light and sarcastic. While laughing at the expense of others could be considered a negative trait in society, on social media it seems to be the norm. Take the Olympics (no really, take them). #sochifail was a glorious example of failure at the highest level that was handled with relative humor and mixed disgust.

Brands often fall into these traps with their own failures, the important bit is to take them in stride, admit the mistake and move on. The internet never forgets, but it also never remembers as it has quickly moved on to the next thing. Keep this in mind when you feel that all is lost, in a moment some other brand will feel the same way and the #bashtags highlighting your momentary mistake will have faded into the proverbial social media sunset.

Customer service woes

According to a J.D. Power and Associates study 67% of 23,000 consumers surveyed take to social media to get service. Of those, 87% come away with a positive experience, likely to use that brand again. This put the onus on the brand that is distributing the service to not suck. Many brands have not caught on and simply run a cut and paste service, which sheds a terrible light on them. Many brands are forced to just juggle a continuous stream of complaints about something they cannot control (think airlines replying to customers complaining about delays caused by weather). Still other brands have created a ticket system (similar to I.T. requests) to handle customer issues that come in through social.

While I believe that social media should not be used by brands to handle customer service and those requests should be routed off social media, we have to understand why people even take to social media in the first place for customer service. The reasons are quite simple. As humans we want to voice our frustrations to find common souls to put us at ease, we want immediate gratification and we just simply want to be heard. This all contributes to taking to a public social forum to voice our frustrations, complaints and other customer service questions. This creates a litany of #bashtags, based around whatever is pissing off someone or a group of people at any given moment. Larger brands of course get the brunt of this bashing, but some smaller brands fall prey if they make a mistake on a micro level.

Complaint city. Population: you

Why do we love to complain on social media so fervently? In the end, we just want to be heard. Social media has given us a forum for that, and in order to represent themselves, brands have no choice but to take the good with the bad. While they have different methods of dealing with social bashing, most have handled it well, save for the ones who actually deserve it. Every once in a while social media seems like a good place for consumers to engage with brands, except when it doesn’t. Context is important, timing is everything and 140 characters will never be enough to truly understand or carry the weight of whatever is being bashed.

#bashtags have become the new standard for talking about whatever it is we don’t like, no matter if we understand it or not, or even if we have anything to do with it. For some it can be a form of entertainment, for others it can be a way to bring awareness to liars and the lies they tell. For most of us though, it is just another way to be the loudest duck at the pond.