Hashtags: #smartnewmarketingtool or #riskymarketingmove?

Call me out of touch, but I really don’t understand the fascination with hashtags.
The hashtag gives Twitter the ability to collect all tweets about that topic into one collective location. That makes it easy for Twitter users to join the conversation by reading, retweeting and adding commentary. If enough people tweet and retweet about the hashtag word or group of words, it’s considered a topic that is “trending” (i.e. it’s popular).

Of course marketers have smelled an opportunity to leverage the hashtag because what could be better than having consumers talk about your brand—especially if the brands themselves sparks the conversation?

Within the last 20 years, there’s been a huge change in advertising CTA’s (Call-to-Action)—especially in television. First, many commercials ended by showing an 800 numbers, and that was quickly followed by the vanity 800 number. With the advent of the web, marketers substituted URL’s for 800 number. After it was discovered that the consumer didn’t know what to do once they landed on a website home page, the MURL was invented (www.nameofbrand/specificpage). When Facebook exploded on the scene, brands wanted you to visit and like them on their Facebook pages. But now, it seems, all of that is old school.

Many of the most recent Super Bowl commercials didn’t end with phone numbers, web addresses or any mention of Facebook. Instead, a hashtag was offered up in front of a pithy subject line as a way to get viewers engaged in a dialogue about the commercial itself (and, ultimately, the brand).

I find it interesting that during the Super Bowl this year, millions of dollars were spent on each 60-second spot, and yet several marketers risked it all by using a single CTA: a predetermined #groupofwords. I could understand if the hashtag was in addition to other CTA’s, but in most of the instances I observed, it was the standalone close on the spot.

A blog that challenges B-to-B marketers to learn, share, question, and focus on getting it right—the first time. Carolyn Goodman is President/Creative Director of Goodman Marketing Partners. An award-winning creative director, writer and in-demand speaker, Carolyn has spent her 30-year career helping both B-to-B and B-to-C clients cut through business challenges in order to deliver strategically sound, creatively brilliant marketing solutions that deliver on program objectives. To keep her mind sharp, Carolyn can be found most evenings in the boxing ring, practicing various combinations. You can find her at the Goodman Marketing website, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter @CarolynGoodman.
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  • KevinDasilva

    Hey Carolyn, great insights. Until recently I completely agreed w/ you. I never get fascination w/ #hashtags (or Twitter). But now I do. Here’s the way i explain to my tribe…

    #1 Dont think of #hashtags as "organizational items." They’re more like "Forum Threads!" This is how I now see Twitter… As a forum for every topic worldwide (your fav tv show, political event, seminar, super bowl, sports gams, etc).

    #2 I couldn’t agree w/ you more about "brand evangelists!" But what better way to find "brand evangelists" then the people in #hashtags conversations? These are the most active (not only on social media toda… on sm, talking about your topic), most engaged (only the hardcore fans of a topic know the hashtags to be in), etc!

    ie. Soon Im launching a 2nd podcast about Politics… Where else will I be able to find a more active, interested & engaged audience then the peeps in a hashtag convo’s such as… #MTP (Meet the Press) every sunday, #ThisWeek, #FoxNews (for finding republicans), #MSNBC (for finding democrats)?

    The key, however, IMHO, is not to just throw a hashtag in a tweet… But to instead jump in on hashtag conversations for LIVE events about your topic.

    ie. Politics = Presidential #Debates, State of the Union #SOTU, etc

    Also, we don’t just wanna place a #hashtag in a tweet and let it be… We want to jump in on the conversations being had to build relationships with the people in those conversations and make actual friends. But now Im starting to see that there is a better way.

    I hope a different point of view is helpful.

    Great article though Carolyn… Very interesting read.


  • Frankelop

    I agree with Brandon. While I might be able to understand not wanting to keep up with #everynewtwistinsocialmedia, I found myself wondering if there wasn’t an element of ignorance on your part.

    Companies with the budget to produce Superbowl TV spots likely approach this from the top end of the funnel. They can reach a huge audience for brand awareness, and having done a minimum of homework, they know that people increasingly watch TV with a mobile device close by, if not in hand. By including a hashtag, they can get some metrics as to size of response to the hashtag, collect valuable data on responders, and have responders interacting about their brand. That’s called #interactivebrandengagement, and goes a long way toward building #brandloyalty.

  • C. Makepeace

    I’ve never understood the fascination with hashtags either. I’ve never used one and probably never will. Yes, it was risky to use only a hashtag as a CTA in a commercial. Risky, because the vast majority of viewers don’t know what it’s for. It would be like including an email address as the sole CTA in a 1984 advertisement (best analogy I can come up with at 8 a.m).

  • Orly Ashair

    It’s gratifying to read what I have been thinking. Are hashtags just another vehicle for marketers to out-market other marketers?

  • York Somerville

    Thanx, now I think I #understandhastags

  • Brandon

    Hmmm…Carolyn but isn’t it your job to understand the fascination of hashtags and not get to the point where you’re too out of touch, especially since you are a contributing writer for a marketing magazine? I recommend stepping outside of the B-to-B conversation (which is the section it was tagged).

    Also, if you were to actually click and do the simple research by just looking at the trending topics (specifically non-sponsored, not promoted) on Twitter, you’ll notice that some keywords are not hashtags at all, and the majority of those trending topics are typically idioms in the form of a hashttag created by a single, non-sponsored, non-brand affiliated Twitter user. I can’t remember a recent trending topic hashtag, that was organically started by a brand.

    In many cases, and in my case as a marketing director for an online retailer, we collaborate with other brands to engage our customers in the social media marketing (including hashtags) that the brands are distributing. Your only example are brands who ran a TV spot during the SuperBowl, those brands with enough cash and established branding power to only show a hashtag? C’mon. Your definition of "risking it all" is obviously much different.

    Furthermore, you don’t have to be cool enough to care to explore Twitter’s trending topics, you just have the most minuscule amount of journalistic integrity to provide the readers with substance and to let us know that you put in a little effort. By the way, do you actually think that people use hashtags because of its "cool" factor?

    Oh, and there are no guarantees in marketing. I hope anyone at the helm of any social media or marketing position knows at least that. Tell me again, what’s risky about brands using hashtags? What would you tell a client of yours at Goodman Marketing Partner who’d like to use a hashtag in a new campaign? I sure hope you’d already done your research to provide them the best plan. #Facepalm

  • Rebecca

    My big pet peeve with hashtags is when ordinary people (i.e. stay at home moms, teenagers, even retired folks) use hashtags on their Facebook status updates. like "the baby was up all night last night #iNeedSleep ) I don’t get it…