The Early Days of Hashtag Marketing

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Tweet this, get that.

It’s disruption marketing at its finest. Companies are now using hashtag marketing strategies as a way to create attention by rewarding those who are willing to shill for them (more on that here: DigiDay – Has Hashtag Marketing Arrived?). With so many people connected and sharing on Twitter, what’s the big deal if a handful of those tweets are people telling us about a brand and – in doing so – they get some kind of rebate? The issue is one of filtering. I may very much like following you, but should you start tweeting because you’re benefitting from a marketing program and I’m getting the spam, it may be grounds for a social media divorce.

You only get one chance to make a  great digital impression.

Not to be hard on this type of marketing, but does anybody feel like this is the future of digital marketing? Do we really think that leveraging individuals and compensating them for blasting their social graphs is the way to build any semblance of brand loyalty and love? I could be a lot harsher on these types of initiatives, but there’s another mitigating factor at play here: it is early (very early) days. This is the time of experimentation. Brands don’t know what to do with hashtags, and Twitter probably hasn’t figured out a clear program to help these brands find a definition.

We’re just trying stuff.

When we execute with a "we’re just trying stuff" type of mindset, we have to be ready for the backlash as well. Brands are (for the most part) highly unprepared for the backlash and negative engagement that these types of marketing campaigns come with. Consumers that are polarized or that have a semblance of ill-will toward a brand see public opportunities – like a hashtag marketing campaign – to newsjack the situation and inject their story into the brand’s. Not only does this cause a negative brand experience for everyone who is following along (including members of the media), but it usually derails the management team who are now focusing on running the hashtag marketing campaign while doing their best to not enrage the individuals who have invaded the scene.

It sounds complicated.

If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is complicated. The reason a lot of these hashtag marketing initiatives go awry is because the brand is blinded by their own perceptions (which many of us would define as delusional). They figure that the offer is fair and people interested will share and share alike. They figure that because they’re engaged in these channels, that they can interact and defuse the newsjacking. They fail to understand that if their products and services were not polarizing and people had a genuine interest in sharing the brand narrative with their social graph, that they would already be doing it (and, perhaps, the real opportunity for the brand is in figuring out how to become a better and more connected part of that engagement). This is complicated because the brand creates a message that it can’t control and the initiative is one that only benefits if everyone falls into the narrative that the brand wants them to. That never happens. This doesn’t mean that we have to write off hashtag marketing, but it does mean that we have to think of better ways to make this work, and that starts with ensuring that everyone who connects with the campaign benefits… not just the individual tweeting that first tweet.

What do you think about hashtag marketing?


  1. “Do we really think that leveraging individuals and compensating them for blasting their social graphs is the way to build any semblance of brand loyalty and love?”
    I suppose it depends what your definition is of brand loyalty and love. My guideline is always to”make my friends/followers/clients” look good. eg when I send out a request to my SM to publicize one of my events I preface it with “Please RT to your network with your comments” The “with your comments” shows my recognition that it is the quality of their endorsement, not the size of their social graph, that will determine the success of this marketing strategy.

  2. Brands that bombard hashtags with spam messages irritate, disrupt community conversation and just look plain ugly. I see this happening a lot with geographic hashtags like #Adelaide for example. But some brands are cleverly leading regular hashtag conversations on Twitter that support their brand story, like @crowdbooster leading #commschat which I find valuable. It’s an ongoing connection where the brand provides something the community supports.
    Thanks for the great read.

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