Commentary

Would You Go Out With A Hashtag?

The way marketers use social too often resembles a bad date. They never stop talking, they don’t listen, they clumsily try to get in your pants the very first time, and afterwards, they expect you to want them to call you whenever they like.  So it is with all the “best practices” you read around hashtags.  Hashtags are now on every TV spot, every billboard, every print ad.  And that’s not a bad idea.  But it’s wrong to expect the audience not only to go out with them but also be wingman.

Hashtags were invented by Twitter users to enable them to better search for content.  That content is sometimes marketing content, but most frequently is a topic they’re interested in. People use hashtags in their tweets for a few reasons:

*To make the key subject of their tweet findable by others. This applies to broad topics you might want to align with (#obama), organizing a flow of content round time-bound events(#comiccon or #glee), or contributing to a meme (#grumpycat).

*As a shorthand to add commentary to your tweet, usually in an ironic way (#1stworldproblems).
To enter a promotion that requires you to do so (#Loveyourwalls).

When a marketing campaign is really compelling, a thin slice of the audience may give you your due by using the official hashtag. Leaving aside the risk of brandjacking, this is an excellent earned opportunity for remarketing.

But it is a mistake to confuse the users of your hashtag with your entire social marketing opportunity, just as you shouldn’t confuse the universe of people who will date you with the universe of people you want to date. Hashtags should be a carefully wrought component of a social campaign, not the spine of it.  

Let’s take a look at a few current campaigns that feature hashtags on the end of their workhorse TV spots: Audi, Verizon, and Toyota.  Using Taykey’s monitoring technology, my company, we find that over the week from April 1 through April 8, the word “Audi” appeared in social conversations almost 150,000 times for each use of their #Bravery or #BraveryWins hashtag, “Verizon” appeared tens of thousands of times more frequently than #PowerfulAnswers, and “Toyota” appeared a thousand times more frequently than #Let’sGoPlaces.

There is, though, an additional branding reason marketers may use hashtags.

While the volume of use they can most often expect may be small, the hashtag itself is a piece of messaging. It's not a usual behavior for people to tag their communication on behalf of a marketer’s goals. Smart marketers may use the hashtag the way people really do use them: to succinctly sum up the communication that came before.

Thus, Audi entertains with their prom smackdown and in the final card associates the brand with bravery. Verizon uses their hashtag to let you know that they have powerful answers to your needs, and Toyota quickly supports their message with a friendly invitation.

As a media tactic, though, marketers can do better. Hashtags are static, but the audience isn’t. Because I tweeted your hashtag once, doesn’t mean I’m thinking about you all the time. Instead of just using your group of hashtaggers for remarketing, dive in using a technology that can track what else this group is interested in and associate your paid messaging with the ever-changing topics they care about. Not only do you have a chance to message against a lean-in audience, but you learn more about your three-dimensional audience.

Listening as well as talking is like actually having a relationship, not just a lame first date.

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