It all started with one well-intentioned tweet from the Pittsburgh Penguins at around 1 p.m. May 13.
The towels are meant to be a keepsake item for Pittsburghers, said executive director of the Bradenton Area CVB Elliott Falcione — a Pittsburgher himself — but within hours of the Penguins’ tweet, a hashtag sent the opposite message of the towels: Don’t visit Bradenton.
Chris C., @Boltcc, was one of the first to respond at 7:06 that night. At 7:14 p.m., James @FloridaLife727 tweeted, “Classy @VisitBradenton. You morons can't do anything right. Sarasota is cleaner anyway. #boycottBradenton”
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And so the hashtag frenzy began.
According to hashtag tracking service Hashtrack, the tweet reached more than 7 million timelines and peaked on Friday, May 13 with 688 original tweets.
The CVB issued a clarification at 11:02 p.m. May 13, but the press release didn’t include the words “apologize” or “sorry,” further angering fans. It took until 2 p.m. the next day for the CVB to apologize to Lightning fans via Facebook and declare their support for the team.
The hashtag use dropped steadily after May 13 as heat from the Lightning crowd began to dissipate. But after the Bolts lost the last game, it picked up again, but only slightly.
About 35 percent of the #boycottBradenton tweets included another hashtag. The most used hashtag? #gobolts
Falcione stressed that he had no idea who’d be playing the Penguins when he made the towel deal. The towels, first known as the Terrible Towel, have a long history in Pittsburgh and in the national sports sphere, where they’ve spurred a contentious view of Pittsburgh sports fans in general.
More than 1,500 people contributed to the use of the hashtag between May 13 and May 27, the day after the Bolts fell to the Penguins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. Unsurprisingly, in the age of living on and through our phones, 75 percent of users tweeted the hashtag from mobile devices.
And no visual representation of a hashtag would be complete without a word cloud.
Falcione apologized to a roomful of press the next day and accepted full responsibility for the backlash.
Maybe Friday the 13th isn’t the best day to launch a promotion.