This week, Twitter has leaked information that it is considering killing the #hashtags and @replies in exchange for a more "streamlined interface". Don't worry though, the functionality would remain, but the symbols would be shelved. The once abhored and shunned icon of social media has now become so central to our social experience, that I really can't remember what it was like before, or know what it will be like after. Whether this information turns out to be true or false, no doubt Twitter will either change their minds, or come up with some other iconic tool that will become equally essential to us all. This news, though, has prompted me to reminisce on the last 7 years of the hashtag - the wins, and the fails - and how you can use them to really drive business.
First, let's take you back to the golden years of 2007...
It's just before the crash. You're looking at your golden computer, sitting on your golden chair, in your golden house (that's how we like to remember it anyway) and the Leaman brothers were still going strong. In rides Chris Messina, the Godfather of the tweet - a man who didn't even work for Twitter:
how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?— Chris Messina™ (@chrismessina) August 23, 2007
And a legend was born...
and how to get one before it is too late!
What makes up a great hashtag? Content of course, but the real power here is context. Let's take a look at some of the big wins for the hashtag, and if you are doing anything like this, you can pat yourself on the back and declare yourself a hashtag winner. Here are 3 examples of the different ways brands have used the hashtag to enhance their image (and business).
@Charmin - #TweetFromTheSeat
Not every brand could get away with this, but a little tongue and cheek is often a good way to engage with your customers and fans. Charmin toilet paper have really put the nail on the head with this one. Getting the balance right between funny and cringy, and keeping on-brand with your tone is definitedly something to watch out for though.
If you are doing something good for the world, however small, make sure people know about it. And what better way than a good hastag. #FEEDUSA is short, to-the-point, and allows people to get involved with the movement. Twitter can be a great place to rally support, so get the Twitterverse behind you.
What NOT to do. EVER.
You can't have the ups without the downs, or the highs without the lows, and there really have been some real hashtag fails. Remember any of these?
@Entenmanns #Not Guilty (after Casey Anthony's “Not Guilty” murder verdict.)
Whether this was an honest mistake (in which case, do your research) or Entenmanns were trying somehow to be funny (it's not), this tweet is one of the best/worst examples of what not to do, and really highlights the lasting, damaging effect bad tweets can have on your business.
This is more of a general rant about all those people out there who over-use the hashtag. Don't be a #HashTag #Spammer. #ItsSoAnnoying.
Oh dear. Who didn't check this one? Susan Album Party was turned into something much less savoury, and turned the whole thing into a PR disaster. What can we learn from this? Check it!
The Provoker (not in a good way)
@McDonalds - #McDStories
So you want people to talk about your brand? Great. But if your brand has any possible negative connotations you are inviting people to say bad things about you. Unless your brand is totally immune to bad PR (and I can't think of one), keep your brand name out of it.
By following some of these examples of hastag best pratctice, if Twitter does decide to axe the hashtag, at least you will be able to say that you made the most out of it while it lasted. And if it doesn't, why, another great tool in your toolbelt.