The value of a hashtag

The value of a hashtag

Hashtags; the most effective way for brands to connect TV engagement with social conversation.And as a result, one of the best opportunities to increase the media value of expensive ATL campaigns. So it’s no wonder brands spend a lot of time and money on crafting the perfect term.

When done correctly, they’re everything the marketing team wants it to be. They direct mass conversation, attract wider audiences and easily measure engagement. But when push comes to shove, are official hashtags created from the point of view of the audience or the brand? When the last season of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here aired it attracted a huge fanfare.Along with TV audiences of over 12m, it also succeeded in driving a massive digital following. In just one hour the TV show drove over 339k twitter mentions. But how many of these were clearly connected to the show and its official hashtags? After purely analysing brand terms such as #Imaceleb and #IACGMOOH the number of engagements was drastically lower, with only 43k mentions.

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So where did the rest go? Most of them broke off into sub-topics connected to the celebrities, challenges and group conversations around the campfire. And whilst the producers could probably have predicted which organic hashtags would emerge, the brands marketing themselves around the show would have found it impossible to track where the digital discussion would go next.

More recently, we’ve seen the same thing on Celebrity Big Brother. With the recent roundabout that is Lee Ryan’s love life, driving an upsurge in user engagement. But along with the official #ccb and @bbuk mentions – a significant amount of conversation has adopted its own phrases. Some of these you would expect, and some are probably not to be posted on this blog(!), but there’s also been an emergence of some less than predictable terms (sych as #cringeunited ?)

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The point is, conversations evolve beyond the official terminology – ultimately morphing to mirror the individuals and events taking place in real-time. And because audiences don’t stick to the script when it comes to social, it means it’s very rare to predict what the next hashtag may turn into. Taking into account the I’m A Celeb data and some recent client studies we’ve undertaken, less than 13% of Twitter conversation related to TV involves an official hashtag.

So what are brands to do?The first option is it to put even more effort and media budget into official hashtags. With enough force a brand could funnel conversation towards a very clean and contained naming system. However, whilst that would make things infinitely easier for marketers to follow, it’s ultimately doomed to fail.Trying to control conversation is the same as trying to tell people what to think. If you’re going to ask people their opinion, you need to listen to their answer. So rather than fight it, why not embrace it? By recognising the democratic landscape of social engagement, and adopting a few simple rules to engage with it, brands can uncover invaluable methods to connect with their fans.

But just remember…

Be smart about your choice of hashtag

Whilst you can’t control the conversation forever, it’s still worth developing a hashtag that has the best chance of capturing audience’s attention. Throwing in your brand name along with the campaign title is all well and good when you have short name, but anything over 10 characters is pushing it. Go for something short, catchy and unique

And although it sounds obvious, double check with a few people to see if they interpret your social copy in the same way you do. If not you could end up with more attention than you wanted, just like Susan Boyle’s infamous #susanalbumparty or the confusion around Cher’s health at the time of Thatcher’s death with #nowthatcherisdead.

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Follow where the twitter conversation goes

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Sooner or later the conversation will branch off in a new direction. At that point you either say goodbye to it (and the work you’ve invested to engage fans in the first place), or you adapt with it.There’s no shame in adjusting your use of hashtags to mirror your fans language. More importantly, it demonstrates you’re listening and ready to change your own language to be more relevant for your audience. O2 are a great example of adapting to their social fanbase. When they suffered from a network shortage they created a hashtag for fans to follow, but also knew that people would have their own conversations (and frustrations) around the situation. So they followed a number of terms and fan-made hashtags to remain at the heart of the conversation.

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Understand when the conversation’s not about you

Whilst adapting to social chatter is crucial, it’s also important to understand when you no longer have a right to enter a conversation. Whilst hashtags have been around for almost 8 years there are a number of brands who still don’t understand the etiquette of using them. Ultimately, it’s a very simple rule. If the conversation is connected to your brand or area of expertise – and you can add value to the conversation by getting involved – then by all means. Get involved. If however, the topic has nothing to do with you, then simply stay away. Trying to piggyback on a trending term for a bit of free exposure might sound look like a good idea at the time, but it presents more risks than rewards in the long run. Just look at Kenneth Cole’s less than sensitive tweet about the Syrian crisis or the, still discussed, Bing fail of donating to the Japan Tsunami.

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It’s fair to say that a world where fans only used the official hashtags would be a glorious paradise for all us marketers. But until that world arrives, brands will need to adapt to popular demand. It may not make our lives as marketers an easier, especially in terms of campaign control and measurement. But ultimately it will allow audiences to have a free flowing, honest conversation about the topic at hand – which is kind of the reason for doing it in the first place