One Social Punk’s Take On Hashtags #moderation

I rarely post about my day job on here.  I didn’t when I was in advertising.  I certainly don’t now that I am client side.  Really, I’ve kept the blog about my passions and weekend mistakes, aired like dirty laundry for all of you to soak up like break and be thrown on your culture griddle like French Toast when you’re hungover.

But I need to talk about something that’s starting to get pervasive.  I’m talking about something most of us have been seeing at events for years, but now I am finding it on my toilet paper.  I am not talking about QR codes, which are so 2000s now that they may come back into style.

I’m talking about hashtag confusion on Twitter.

I’ve long had a philosophy about social media in general.  It’s that people harp far too much on the “media” and not enough on the “social”.

Amidst the chaos of a world that is going more social every day and wild infographic “virals” telling us social is growing like the plague, we’re losing sight of what it is.  The more decks get thrown your way on sentiment, engagement, ROI, KPI and the lot, the more we lose sight of the point.

That point is a conversation.

And here’s where the hashtag is brilliant.  One of it’s two usages (in my mind) is to simply identify a Tweet as a part of a larger conversation.  It’s inherently at the core of why we subconsciously are addicted to social platforms.  It’s our chance to globally get something off our chest and pin it to a conversation across all countries and demographics.  Even if it gets lost, it doesn’t.  Somewhere out there in some Fievelian sense (yes, the mouse from the cartoon) someone is reading your pinned anecdote and you are a part of something bigger.

The other usage for a hashtag (my favorite) is as some sort of Twitter parenthetical that hearkens back to Kevin Nealon’s “subliminal man” on Weekend Update from SNL.

Here’s what I mean at the expense of Tim Tebow.  Here’s my sample tweet:

Wow, Tebow.  Where was Jesus in THAT fourth quarter? #ontheseventhdayherested

See?  You can use a hashtag to create a short, snarky, totally a-hole of you quip with no fear that people will attach the polite beginning of you text to the raw truth bomb you provided post hashtag with absolutely no spaces.  #spacesareforamateurs

In common speech, I’ll literally sometimes say “hashtag, go to hell” and I can get away with saying mostly anything.  That said, it’s pretty new media d-bag of me to say “hashtag” outloud, but I know what I am and embrace it.  #mywifestilllovesme

So let’s get back to the first iteration of a hashtag, which is to attempt to wrangle Tweets into one searchable lineage.

This practice really took hold for me at industry events.  At say SXSW, it’s helpful to have hashtags listed everywhere so you can see what people are saying about what you are attending without having to figure out who all these people are.

It helps agencies and companies measure (lazy style) volume and sentiment as their events go on and long after they’ve ended and if the hashtag took hold, it almost lets you circumvent the Radian6’s of the world.  #ifeelawkwardwhendiscussthetwitterfirehose

Lately, we’ve been seeing the hashtag pop up during television shows and on-air movies.  Sometimes this makes perfect sense.  Having a #bachelor or #americanidol hashtag is great because you are watching and having opinions and why not share them and see what others are saying.  It’s realtime-ish, your friends are all saying funny things, it’s a conversational medium.

I’ve seen it with television shows of the episodic nature and for something like, say, Glee, I get it again.  Gleeks love the damn show and it’s impossible to avoid their tweets of “OMG GAGA COVER FINALLY”.  Why not stoke that flame for the hardcore fans.  I’d rather be tortured by an ex girlfriend than watch Glee, but I think they warrant some hashtag love.

But like the Fonz once did, the hashtag is jumping the shark in a big way.

I am seeing it in places that make no sense.  I’m seeing it in commercials.  Why?  WHAAAY?! #cartmanvoice

To play Devil’s Advocate (one of my favorite pasttimes), I get it if there’s a sprawling 4 part commercial brand initiative, like say, when they let the audience choose the next M&Ms color (although there was no internet at the time I don’t think).  People had to write in and vote (#sonotgreen) or call a number to vote (#precellphonedays).

That campaign now would warrant a hashtag because it was starting a conversation.  It was asking you what color you wanted in your M&Ms, which affects virtually every time your girlfriend, friend girl or wife gets sad and eats an industrial size bag of them.  Thank Tebow blue won.

The thing is, I am seeing it during commercials for products with no planned conversation around them.  They are simply hashtags for the sake of eating hashtags.  This is like pissing in your sink because it has a drain.  Sure, you CAN piss in your sink, but there’s a toilet right there and it’s been designed for you to piss in.  Let’s respect solid thinking and planning.

I’ve seen some products ask you to hashtag tweet for an incentive.  I get that, kind of.  I mean, the ultimate goal in social is for the brand to behave as a consumer so you don’t feel like your friends with a commercial.  Think about Red Bull and their advantage.  They can show you Travis Pastrana almost killing himself in a rally car and brand that experience and their target audience feels grateful.  That’s because Red Bull knows their consumers and they know even if Red Bull didn’t exist, they would share and talk about Travis Pastrana almost killing himself in a rally car.  Since most people can’t spend the money to facilitate this (or don’t know Travis), Red Bull acts like your cool, rich friend and does it for you.  They advertise socially right to your face and you thank them. #winnerwinnerchickendinner

If that kind of interaction is not possible, say you market a product people don’t tend to love talking about in social, say a sensibly-priced female skewing automobile or a food product not skewing toward teenagers, then incentivizing conversation is reasonable.  If you can’t give me a thematic reason to talk about your brand, at least give me something of value for doing it.

Think of it this way.  When you were a kid, you knew that friend who would eat anything for five dollars.  A worm, a urinal cake, you name it.  He didn’t do that for free.  If you pay him a nominal fee, he’ll take a nominal punishment and maybe even enjoy it.  That’s social equity at work.  That’s conversation.

It may seem like a stretch, but think about it.  If you aren’t at the very least offering people an incentive, you better know what you are asking.  It’s like uncanny valley, if people don’t understand why it’s there, they react poorly.

Again, think about the social, not the media.

You could assume a #glee hashtag will be dominated by positive Glee conversation.  If you aren’t sure you have the community to support a hashtag, are you just inviting haters to hate.  At that point, are you helping or hurting? #youarehurting.

We’re too focused on the media.  For a lot of these placements, it’s like watching Ron Burgandy struggle to figure out where and when to say “when in Rome”.

So we don’t burn the world out on something really good, let’s exercise some caution as an industry.  Let’s practice safe text.  Ask yourself “what will someone do with this” when they are given a hashtag.  Have you specifically told them WHAT you want them to do?  Is it part of something larger?  If so, did you plant that seed because if not, they’ve already forgotten.

It’s about conversations and not creating a convention.  Hashtags are as vital to Twitter as “likes” are to Facebook.  So why do we collective get that we need to spend ad buys, incentivize and create calls to action to gain likes, but we’ll slap a meaningless hashtag with little to no chance of a good conversation on anything.  And that’s if you are lucky enough to get a conversation at all.

I tend to stick with the second hashtag usage.  You know, being snarky.  Every now and then though I’ll be watching USC and want to tie my opinion on a call to the larger conversation and sure enough, thousands of people are tweeting with #USC attached.  Naturally.  Almost like… like…  a real conversation!

I’m not hating.  I’m just a big advocate of looking at social tangibly and doing everything to dissuade the world that it is a bubble waiting to burst.

So, if this got you going, feel free to tweet about it.  #hashtagetiquette



Filed under Rants and Musings

9 responses to “One Social Punk’s Take On Hashtags #moderation

  1. A really great piece. I agree with a lot of the takes and, as always, you have crystalized and focused a lot of thoughts I’ve had but haven’t expressed. So thanks for that.

    On a related note, did you see Gizmodo’s post about hashtags from last week?

    The hashtag is misunderstood and used sloppily and it would suck if the utilities you outlined are washed away because of that.

    • Zack Jerome

      i did see that. i think he’s more worried about language than i am, of course i don’t spellcheck. i think of social as being about conversational evolution. my intent is just for brands to think about what they are doing instead of just doing what they think they need to.

  2. Sarah

    Zack you are awesome. I usually come here for the football. As a girl who never watched the bachelor before, your post made me start recording it only so I could read your recaps. But this…. this speaks to me!

    You express the frustration I feel every day working at an marketing agency where there are hundreds of conversations and brain storms about social media that ultimately end in putting every possible tactic on the wall #becauseitstrendy

    Thank you for your smart entertaining perspective

  3. HeliGeorge


  4. Jason

    “‘LiveHashtag’ – Similar to ‘Airquotes’, its the physical representation of punctuation. Make a peace sign with both hands, and cross them perpendicularly.”

    – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

  5. Nothing is worse than going to an event and nobody has bother to come up with a hash tag, let alone told anyone what to use–especially at a blogger/tweeter event! Oh, it happens more than once that my friends and I just started using something and other tweeps caught on. Sometimes I just we just told the event organizers what WE were using so they could announce it. By the point it was usually way too late. #poorplanning

    Hash tag comes in handy for #psychogate last season, I must say. It really does keep our conversation going. Then again, it’s a very niche group.

  6. I’m still amazed that you are finding hash tags on your toilet paper 😉 #amazeballs #yesthatjusthappened

    Two more somewhat incorrect uses.

    You nailed it with: “what will someone do with this” when they are given a hashtag. Have you specifically told them WHAT you want them to do?

    It’s like saying: Talk about this (insert #) and tell me why I should care.

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