Hashtag Bombs: How Not to Leverage Trending Hashtags
When it comes to social media marketing, many brands and organizations have staked claim to various hashtags. Yet by their nature, hashtags can’t be owned. They can’t be wordmarked or copyrighted, either. The reality is that many hashtags are started organically, not by brands themselves but by their customers.
Hashtags were once the sole domain of Twitter. Over the years, other social properties began incorporating them as well. Google Plus and Instagram recognize them. Earlier this year, LinkedIn started using them. And soon, they’ll become part of Facebook as well.
Hashtag Bombs Are Simply Bad Marketing
As the use of hashtags expands, specialized ecosystems have evolved around them, including Twitter chats. I co-host one such Twitter chat. #SocialChat is a live interview and conversation with marketing experts and other participants running each Monday night at 9:00 pm Eastern, which frequently generates a potential reach of over 500,000 people.
We knew #SocialChat had become very popular when various people started leveraging the #SocialChat hashtag to reach our audience with regular tweets and not just during our weekly chat. This initially caught us by surprise; but, we quickly realized it was a good thing.
Next came sponsored tweets on the #SocialChat hashtag. While a bit annoying to our chat regulars, we took this as a another good sign — you know that your Twitter chat has made it when brands begin targeting your audience. Naturally, we wish we could get a small percentage of the fee Twitter charges these companies for the content we generate; but then again, we’re not paying Twitter for the platform.
On Monday, April 29, 2013, all was going well with #SocialChat. If anything, we had a few more unique participants than normal, and the amount of tweets using our hashtag reached over 40 tweets per minute at peak times. The result was the pleasant reality that #SocialChat was starting to trend on Twitter.
This made my co-host, Michelle Stinson-Ross, and me happy. But then something happened that we had never anticipated: hashtag bombing.
As the #SocialChat hashtag started trending, various people began blindly tweeting our hashtag (often using multiple hashtags, including other trending ones) to promote something completely unrelated to the #SocialChat topic of the night.
And there were more:
That last tweet took you to a questionable picture of an Instagram screen grab that was posted on Twitter. Not exactly pornographic, but leaving you wondering why would someone want to share it, let alone why anyone would want to see it. Michelle and I both reported this one to Twitter as spam.
It was a good thing for the spammers that their tweets went out toward the end of the chat. If they had occurred during the middle, our collective participants likely would have reported them. With that many reports, odds are that Twitter would have suspended their accounts nearly immediately, thus rendering them useless for future marketing efforts.
That risk is something to consider if you plan on jumping on a trending hashtag without researching what that tag is all about and who is using it. Your so-called “clever” social marketing plan might just get you or your client kicked off Twitter (or any other social media platform where hashtags are used).
The Importance Of Due Diligence When Leveraging Hashtags
If you’re smart and want to take advantage of a trending hashtag, you’ll do your homework. This entails researching the tag (follow the discussion trail), understanding the audience using it and then crafting an appropriate post that is relevant to that audience. Here’s an example of a well-researched and well-crafted tweet that attempted to extract value from our trending hashtag:
The link in this tweet connected to content which was not only appropriate for the #SocialChat audience but beneficial as well. Despite this person having never participated in #SocialChat, he did provide something of value and interest to the community, easily avoiding being called out as a Twitter spammer.
The lesson here for marketing to online social communities is the same as for face-to-face communities: engage and don’t enrage an audience. In the physical world, you don’t interrupt the conversation at a party with irrelevant and non-related information. If you do, people will think you’re a fool (or, at the very least, impolite). You’ll be shunned by party guests that you could influence, and you’ll be excluded from future events.
There is nothing wrong with leveraging popular hashtags for marketing purposes. The key to success is to do your homework first. Failure to do your homework means more than a failed marketing effort, it could get your account kicked-off that social media forever, hurting both yourself and the brand your represent for a long time.
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