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).

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.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have never even bothered to look to see what topics are trending on Twitter. Maybe I’m not cool enough to care. But I’m not 100 percent confident that throwing a hashtag in front of a topic will generate a POSITIVE conversation about my brand. So why would you place your brand at risk after you’ve spent hundreds of hundreds of thousands of dollars?

Creating “brand evangelists” has always been a core goal of any brand—people who support your brand, talk about it, recommend it to others and basically act as your mouthpiece by providing personal endorsements. But does doling out a hashtag topic guarantee that a positive conversation will ensue? Not in my book. #marketinghashtag