EDMOND, Okla. - It was just supposed to be a firm reminder. A way to get a business that was crossing the line to get off her back.
Instead, a simple tweet ignited an online firestorm that quickly raged out of Sherri Hultner's control.
"I'm astounded at the level of vitriol but I guess I shouldn't be," she told told NewsChannel 4 Friday.
Hultner posted a picture with a message: paying advertisers were the only ones allowed to use the phrase #shopedmond for marketing and advertising. Others, she threatened in later posts, could be subject to lawsuits.
"I wasn't claiming a hashtag, let's just be clear, I was claiming the intent of the use of it," adding her intent was to prevent a specific business from infringing on the brand her advertisers pay for.
But internet users balked at what they saw was an insensitive, overreaching and stupid attempt to restrict speech.
This #shopedmond business is pretty entertaining! Wait. Am I gonna get sued now?! Crap!
— Michael Priest (@Priestography) August 6, 2016
You have no right to a hashtag that is not specific to YOU. #shopedmond belongs to ALL Edmond stores & customers.
— Lisa Sutliff (@lisasutliffok) August 6, 2016
Hashtags are free, you dolts #shopedmond
— trey b (@vybeauregard) August 6, 2016
you want people to #shopedmond but threatening them for using the #, doesn't sound too inviting to me.
— Chad Hodges (@ChadDNA) August 5, 2016
everyone is having fun with the hashtag because even non-social media marketers know this isn't how hashtags work
— Beverley Theresa 💣 (@hellobeverley) August 5, 2016
free the hashtags - promoting a community shouldn't come with $ strings. We love our Edmond friends though. Still #shopnorman.
— John Woods (@jwoods75) August 5, 2016
simple rule of the internet: if you say they can't do something, they will do it ten times over to prove you wrong
— Matt (@dattmay) August 5, 2016
because it infringes on the freedom of the internet pic.twitter.com/wMBlJmZBR3
— @bloodonthetweet (@bloodonthetweet) August 5, 2016
A hashtag is a pound symbol, placed before keywords or phrases on social media, so that users may more easily track conversations and topics that are relevant to them.
The phrase #ShopEdmond became more talked about than Thunder star Russell Westbrook by Friday afternoon.
"When you try to take the power away from the users and consumers of Twitter, then they don't take kindly to that," said Mike Koehler, CEO and Chief Strategist at Smirk New Media. "It's really been a backlash of 'you can't own those words.' Instead of something that's uniting, it's become a punchline on Twitter."
Edmond Active is not the first company to trademark and threaten suit over a hashtag.
The U.S. Olympic Committee has forbidden non-sponsoring businesses from using #Rio2016 and #TeamUSA in their tweets, according to CNBC.
Hultner told NewsChannel 4 she regrets the words she chose and the way she went about handling the initial backlash, but she believes she has started a good discussion and learned a lesson.
And social media strategists like Koehler have been quick to point out what went wrong.
"What's happening in this case is that they see the hashtag they're using as something that belongs exclusively to them and their advertisers and they're really trying to restrict the conversation right now," he said. "We always emphasize to our clients: Be quick to apologize, be quick to adapt to the conversation people are having and ride that wave so all those naysayers are people who are promoting your brand.
"You unplug that on Twitter and all of this conversation starts coming in, you can't put that genie back in the bottle."