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How Romney Learned The Hard Truth About Promoted Hashtags

Tweeps are turning against the Romney campaign's #areyoubetteroff hashtag by a ratio of 5-to-1. That's harsh, even by historical Twitter standards.

Posted on September 6, 2012, at 10:54 a.m. ET

After betting big on Twitter ads, the Romney campaign just saw their first sponsored hashtag go wrong. After promoting #AreYouBetterOff to the top of Twitter's list of trending hashtags as a criticism of President Obama's economic policies, a surprising number of tweets came in saying, Yes, they are better off.

But exactly how many tweets were defending President Obama? By our calculations, it's a Mockery Ratio of nearly 5:1.

Most talk about the economy is negative (also, it seems, about politics in general), so sentiment analysis doesn't quite work on #AreYouBetterOff. Instead, I searched the Twitter analytic tool Topsy for simple "yes" and "no" answers. There might be some false positives in there, but even as a rough analysis, the numbers weren't encouraging. Over the two days of the DNC (when the hashtag was promoted), Topsy clocked 5,637 "yes" tweets, compared with just 1,121 "no" tweets, for a general ratio of 5:1.

Thanks to Twitter's overdeveloped instinct for mockery, this is a fairly common tale. In fact, in the early days of Twitter advertising, it was so common that it even earned an insufferably jargony name: a bashtag. McDonalds and Disney are just two of the companies that have seen their promoted hashtags used against them. But when you crunch the numbers, Romney's stacks up as one of the worst bashtags Twitter's seen.

Compare it with McDonald's disastrous #McDStories, which spawned such brand enhancing tweets as the following:

According to Topsy's sentiment analysis tool, on the day it was promoted (January 18, 2012), #McDStories pulled down 13,072 negative tweets and only 2,829 positive tweets, giving it a Mockery Ratio of 4.6:1.

In March, Disney promoted #peoplelikeus to build buzz for the movie of the same name, but ended up with these tweets:

Granted, that's more of a non sequitur than a hostile takeover, but still not ideal when you're trying to build a brand. On the film's opening day, when the hashtag was promoted, they ended up with 7,267 negative tweets and 6,997 positive ones, roughly an even split.

We could play this game all day. For the Maldives' disastrous #sunnysideoflife campaign, the ratio was 1.9 negative tweets for every positive one. For Rogers Wireless' #rogers1number tag in Canada, it was only 1.75.

In general, the backlash is always stronger than the intended message, usually by at least double — and the more ambiguous the hashtag, the easier it is to mock. In the case of #AreYouBetterOff, that's bad news.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.