What’s the Deal with Hashtags?

Hashtags see prominent use on many social media platforms- and they perform multiple functions within what seems like a very basic premise. This is how they are generally constructed across platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram: simply place a “#” symbol in front of a string of relevant characters, and there you have it. Done. It’s as easy as that. But, while it may be easy to make one and dispense into the void of the internet with little to no thought, it may be used by marketers as an effective advertising or promotion tool (social listening included, but will not describe in this blog unfortunately).

So, part of how hashtags function is to be “clickable”- clicking on them takes the browser to a page that contains postings containing the initial hashtag. Some hashtags are more popular than others, and the hashtag is often a conduit through which users may search for more information related to the hashtag of their choice.

How are marketers able to use hashtags? Outside of social listening pursuits, they can create their own or latch onto ones already circulating (and likely quite popular), but it depends on what exactly the marketer is trying to achieve.

For instance, if the marketer is tasked with creating a unique or limited-time advertising promotion online they may opt to establish a unique hashtag. Unique is a vague term, but in this case it is very important. There are many pitfalls to avoid when constructing a custom hashtag- especially if there is a significant budget going towards this promotion. Marketers should check that the hashtag they intend to use does not possess any current activity- if there is activity on that hashtag it should be made sure that the activity is not toxic, and maybe should be reconsidered to find something more unique. Equally, a hashtag should not be overtly long or obtuse as they are meant to be used in conjunction with user expressions (driving engagement and allowing for creativity), and some platforms place a limit on length of posts.

In other instances, it may make more sense for a marketer to just use a hashtag that is already popular or trending widely on social media. For example, conventions or sporting-related events generate their own massively trending hashtag, and without a specific contest to drive a marketer’s hashtag decision, it may most beneficial to jump on the latest hashtag bandwagon to stay relevant to the interests of a target market. When a target market searches for that large event, chances are they may be more likely to see the marketer’s post (among others) than they would otherwise.

Due to the wide use of social media, and the markets available to be communicated to through social media, careful consideration of hashtag use should be made to avoid wasted time, money, and efforts.

Michael Patterson (2014) has some more useful information about hashtags and their history: http://sproutsocial.com/insights/how-to-use-hashtags/

And some valuable information about who is using social media can be found here: http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/10/08/social-networking-usage-2005-2015/

Last, but not least, here is a video I produced to summarize the contents of this blog:

Also available at:




Your Target Market’s Tongue and the Categories of Intention

People morph and mix-up language on a regular basis. This is evident through the evolution of different languages around the world (also dead languages) and even how we write on the internet or in texts. So, it’s no mystery that when deciding which search engine optimization (SEO) terms to use we may have to think a little more deeply about our target market, the search engine itself, and how language changes online.

Target markets may vary dramatically for a given good, service, brand, etc., which makes understanding how they use the internet to search for information paramount in deciding what terms will be best suited for SEO purposes. When searching online (most likely through Google), keywords may have different intents ascribed to them by the user.

For example, a user’s keyword choice may have the intention of purchase behind them- the searcher is looking to buy something, possibly during that period of search. What the searcher could be looking to buy is often illuminated by what search keywords they may use in pursuit of their purchase. These keywords can be quite specific and can include valuable information about one’s target market and what their needs are- exact product descriptions (eg power tools), geographic locations, period of time (do they need a fast remedy to a tax problem?), a specific brand or organization, and more.

People use the internet to do extensive research for information related to topics of interest to themselves, and one of those topics could include, of course, a purchase (but not making the purchase yet). Research has its own place in a consumer’s decision-making process- and it is simple to identify which terms mark this behaviour. In turn, these search terms provide the marketer with insight into which keywords will be of most relevance to a target market. For example, someone gathering information may use certain modifying words in relation to the topic they are searching. These words may be used to infer things such as quality (“best” or “value”), locations (“Vancouver Island” or “Campbell River, B.C.”), and price range (“$10-$20” or “cheapest”). Or, the keywords used may even describe an inquiry regarding “how-to’s” in which a searcher may be looking for tips, procedures, policies, or goods/services to aid them in a project or work of their own.

What this culminates in is the existence of long tail keyword searches that contain three or more words to make a very detailed, very useful piece of information to a marketer. Adopting the tongue of your target market ensures your SEO efforts remain relevant to their interests, and more importantly, relevant to their purchase decision criteria.

OkDork’s article describes some of the principles discussed in this blog: http://okdork.com/2014/03/26/how-we-grew-okdork-200-with-these-exact-seo-tips/

Richard Baxter provides some techniques for keyword research as well: http://www.creativebloq.com/netmag/understanding-your-target-audience-part-1-keyword-research-8135486


Part 3: Twitch, Streaming, and Endorsements

In my last two blogs I spoke about how much noise and clutter there was for marketers to compete with, and about how a different approach to marketing (permission-marketing) can yield excellent results for the niche-market focused firms who cannot compete with the ad dollars spent by larger companies- such as Nike. In this blog I plan to discuss how a certain social media platform, Twitch, harnesses the power of permission marketing to the benefit of both the streamer and the brand sponsoring them.

I will quickly describe Twitch for those unfamiliar: Twitch is a social media platform that allows users to sign-up and stream video of themselves doing pretty much anything with a focus on video games and audience involvement. Hosts stream themselves doing something live while anyone can watch and converse in a text-based chat room displayed next to the video component. Similar to other platforms, such as Twitter, there is no permission required to follow another user on Twitch. Twitch happens to be an excellent conduit to build relationships, and these relationships are not entirely restricted to streamer-to-streamer or streamer-to-audience, but they are almost always built on an authentic attachment to another human being (or even brand).

So, users with a large enough audience gain the attention of certain brands related to the video game industry or other relevant niche-interests, such as cosplay design or crafts. These brands may offer the streamer a form of endorsement in which they supply discount codes or trial products in exchange for a noticeable presence on a stream- this can be in the form of banner ads or even segments in which the brand’s promotion is given the spotlight for a duration of time. In this manner a brand begins its process of permission-marketing:

  1. They offer the prospect (the streamer) an incentive to volunteer (free products or dollar donations). Note: this begins the process by creating an agreement between the two in relation to an endorsement program.
  2. Using the attention offered by the prospect, offer a curriculum over time (continued endorsement, varying goods), teaching the consumer about a given product in service. Note: this aspect gets multiplied as the streamer’s audience’s familiarity implicitly grows along with the continued endorsement program.
  3. Reinforce the incentive to guarantee that the prospect maintains the permission. Note: this occurs when the brand continues to honour its part of the relationship by continuing endorsement in good faith or expanding what it gives to the streamer.
  4. Offer additional incentives to get even more permission from the consumer. Note: this can many forms on Twitch. But, one form this could take is as giveaways for the streamer to provide for their audience which could incorporate growing ties between the endorsing brand and the streamer’s audience.
  5. Over time, leverage the permission to change consumer behavior towards profits. Note: this includes forging a communication channel between the brand and the streamer’s audience as well as opportunity to reach out to more streamers based on a mutually beneficial relationship showcased by the brand’s initial endorsement of the first streamer.

Once again, Seth Godin’s 1999 writings about permission-marketing may be accessed in exchange for an email address here: http://www.sethgodin.com/permission/

And, Twitch can be explored further on its website accessed at: https://www.twitch.tv/




Part 2: Permission Marketing and Relationships

In his book, “Permission Marketing”, Seth Godin (1999) wrote: “[y]ou can define advertising as the science of creating and placing media that interrupts the consumer and then gets him or her to take some action”. One of the key words in his definition is “interrupting”- who likes to be interrupted? Despite being published in 1999, Godin’s concepts fit into 2016 quite nicely. He continues to emphasize that this escalation of interruption-marketing and increased spending on ad exposure suffers dramatically from diminishing returns. Eventually that practice becomes so cost prohibitive as to turn away firms without the financial capital to put their commercials where massive amounts of eyes are looking. The alternative solution to this problem? Permission marketing.

What is permission marketing? It’s a process first and foremost. Instead of shoving ads and promotions for masses of people to stumble upon, permission marketing aims to establish and foster a stronger, more fruitful connection between a firm and its customer. This relationship can be established in myriad ways, but generally conforms to Godin’s (1999) template:

  1. Offer the prospect an incentive to volunteer
  2. Using the attention offered by the prospect, offer a curriculum over time, teaching the consumer about your product or service
  3. Reinforce the incentive to guarantee that the prospect maintains the permission
  4. Offer additional incentives to get even more permission from the consumer
  5. Over time, leverage the permission to change consumer behavior towards profits

There are many ways to begin this process, but they have to fit the firm, its products, and most importantly provide value that the prospect actually deems valuable. Equally, this style of marketing targets specific individuals who express interest in the firm and its initial offerings- instead of trying to send out messages unsolicited. Permission marketing also re-frames the scarcity of time as a means to provide customers with marketing that values that same resource. In this manner, potential customers adopt a brand into their lives towards which cultivates a relationship that works for both parties.

The marketer gains a loyal, receptive customer, and the customer actually gets something of value in return for their voluntary adoption of said marketing materials.

The costs of executing this style of marketing on a large-scale may not make the most sense for firms that pursue low-cost, mass-market strategies (the target market is simply too diverse). However, niche-market focused firms with a differentiated strategy may find added value here. Niche-markets may tend to be smaller in scope and may contain a target market with quite similar psychographic traits making them particularly receptive to certain marketing material designed for them. This strategy also opens up firms to explore more aspects of online marketing- especially in regards to social media where people already are, and where people gain more value in relation to the volume of users on a given social media platform. In Part 3 of this blog series, I will examine how a select social media platform is suitable for permission marketing.

Note: Material for this post makes reference to Seth Godin’s 1999 book, “Permission Marketing”, and is available free in exchange for providing an email address here: http://www.sethgodin.com/permission/

And, to see how personal online targeting can be visit: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2016/08/19/98-personal-data-points-that-facebook-uses-to-target-ads-to-you/




Part 1: On Clutter and Problems Facing Marketers

The above picture depicts a place many people choose to vacation- a decision that requires a lot of money, time (to search and take away from work), and effort to arrive at. During their search for a good deal, a given person may come into contact with thousands of marketing materials and efforts that pursue their clicks and dollars with an algorithmic voracity imperceptible to the would-be vacationer. And the searcher tries quite hard to ignore them or hold on to their apprehension.

Who can blame them? Their eyes have been trained to brush past banner ads and anything on Google’s search page that says “Ad” in front of it. And if the would-be vacationer is really savvy they already have AdBlock and clear their browser’s cookies on a regular basis.

Placing ads and sending out spam will definitely get any message where it needs to go. However, getting someone to pay attention , to listen, and to act is where marketers must work to improve their messages- especially online. The struggle for a public’s mindshare (and dollars) introduces many challenges to the modern marketer: AdBlock software, lower television viewership, and overall clutter create hurdles that must be overcome on a regular basis. Advertisements trip over themselves in their pursuit of being seen- slogans and taglines breathlessly repeating themselves before someone changes the channel or clicks “skip ad”. These gasps for attention rarely affect people on a deep, complex level, but they have some essence of value in regards to acting as buzzing reminders that we shut-off almost as fast as we shut-off our wake-up alarms in the morning.

Speaking of time, an individual’s time is another resource marketers are in a free-for-all competition for. On top of firms in the same industry, marketers must compete against all entities taking up a person’s time. This means marketers compete against the important parts of life such as friends, family, and work (for some). And the more time a marketer tries to get from someone the more critical (and sometimes costly) the potential customer becomes as their personal time is invaded.

This issue gets exacerbated when the messages interrupting us appear to have little value to us on a personal level or are just not at all relevant to your current needs or wants. In an online context, marketers are able to send their messages to people whose online behavior or search history indicates an interest in a given firm’s offerings. However, AdBlock and active cookie deletion makes this style of targeting less effective than it sounds on paper.

So, with all those factors stacked against marketers and the messages they so dearly wish to spread- what can marketers do to be more effective? Well they can keep doing what they are doing and adapt their strategy in relation to how purchase behaviors change and chasing after the largest volumes of eyes (which isn’t entirely terrible- this just may not work for everyone). Or they can try a different approach, something called “permission marketing”, which will be elaborated on in Part 2 of my blog.

To see just how far North Americans go to block and avoid online tracking visit: http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/09/05/anonymity-privacy-and-security-online/

And, to learn more about how marketing is changing in conjunction with consumer behavior and new technology visit: http://mediaplant.net/Content/reports/Dollars,%20Bits,%20and%20Atoms%20A%20Roadmap%20to%20the%20Future%20of%20Marketing.pdf