Whenever you have a conference, and you promote a hashtag on Twitter to promote the conference, you take a risk of someone coming in and using that hashtag for unintended reasons. Usually when we talk about "hijacking" hashtags, you think about what happened to MacDonald's earlier this year. That is a case where people put up false testimonies to embarrass the organization running the hashtag campaign. In the #LMATech situation, that's not really what happened. Instead, you have a different type of hashtag situation that looks very similar to having a heckler (or hecklers) in the audience. Think of Micheal Richards' meltdown during his stand-up routine back in 2006. I think that some on the Marketer side are coming close to taking the meltdown approach… one which feels good now, but when reviewed by the public will not put them in the best of light. (By the way, Michael Richards hasn't done any live shows since his meltdown, and he talks about it with Jerry Seinfeld.)
The hashtag hecklers on the other hand, aren't exactly coming to this with clean hands either. They are not doing anything illegal in their heckling, and in fact, they feel as though they are actually giving the LMATech conference a dissenting view from what is being tweeted from the conference. Ken, from Popehat, lays out a number of arguments about the risks that LMA takes when opening up a hashtag, and that he and others are simply dissenters voicing their honest opinion about what they think about what's coming out of the LMATech conference. However, it is heckling, and not just dissent that is being voiced by those calling BS on the LMA. It's pretty clear that the dissent is out to discredit the message and the messengers, and when it becomes personal like that, it takes on a mudslinging effect that suddenly gets very nasty. It gives those of us outside the argument something that amounts to entertainment, but not really anything of real value comes out of these types of arguments.
Here's my advice to LMA on how to handle the situation. First, accept the fact that there are those out there that simply don't believe in the message you are giving. Don't take it personally, every organization that puts on a conference and promotes a message will have its dissenters. Second, if I wasn't surprised that this happened, then you shouldn't have been caught off guard either. Next time, have a better plan in place on how to address a situation like this. You're Marketing people, after all, you handle bad press all the time, it's just that this time, it's directed at you and not your firm. Third, either ignore the heckling, appease the hecklers, or put the ball in the heckler's court. Invite one or more of them to a conference to speak to the group and have them tell you, as a professional, and an adult, to lay out all the issues that they have with what you are preaching. It seems that at least one person is willing to talk to the group.
Hecklers are going to continue to be out there, telling you that you are awful. Granted, you would think that respected lawyers would find more adult ways to discuss the topic, but I don't see that happening. The worst thing you can do is overreact. If you watch the interview with Michael Richards, he admits that he completely screwed up the situation by overreacting. Go check out the video (around the 14:00 mark) and listen to how taking something too personally has eaten away at Richards. Take his advice, acknowledge that there are those that are going to heckle you, let it roll off your back, and then go home and work on your material some more.