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:

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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