Sunday, April 27, 2014

Hashtag reality check

Businesses who think that Twitter is the solution to their marketing challenges need a reality check. Putting a hashtag on a figure of speech will not automatically make it trend. Before spending millions of dollars on an advertising campaign to create social buzz, marketers should think about what they want to accomplish. If the marketer's brand isn't enhanced, then what's the point.

Case in point: Verizon Wireless. Verizon has a Reality Check campaign in which they add the hashtag "#RealityCheck" to every ad they run. Presumably Verizon wants people exposed to the ad to either include the hashtag whenever they tweet about Verizon Wireless or use the hashtag to search Twitter. Verizon thinks this will cause the hashtag to trend and increase the exposure of their brand in social media.

The problem was Verizon's choice of hashtags. "Reality check" is a very common but generic figure of speech in English. People use it all the time about subjects unrelated to cell phone service. Had Verizon's marketers done a simple search for "#realitycheck" on Twitter, they would have found that people tweet the hashtag every couple of minutes. However, they almost never tweet it in reference to Verizon Wireless. Subsequently, any tweets of interest to Verizon are crowded out by all the unrelated #realitycheck tweets.

The smart thing for a marketer to do is to promote a hashtag that is unlikely to be used in any other context. For example, Verizon should have instead promoted a hashtag like "#best4Gnetwork." A little research would show them that no one else is using the hashtag. If the viewers of an ad promoting this hashtag were to use it, tweets about Verizon Wireless would be the only ones that would appear in a search using the hashtag. I'm not suggesting that #best4Gnetwork is the specific hashtag they should promote -- perhaps Verizon marketers can come up with something catchier -- but whichever hashtag they decide on, they should promote one that would be exclusive to their brand.

It's not hard to do a reality check. Just enter a hashtag into Twitter's search box and see what comes up. If you see an endless string of tweets, consider promoting a different hashtag before spending millions of dollars on ads trying to get the hashtag to trend.