hashtags

AHA - Social MediaI recently had a conversation with an acquaintance that went something like this:

Him: “Hey Ruth, I was thinking about those hash mark thingies…”

Me: “Do you mean hashtags?”

Him: “Yeah, those things. Do you think it would be worth choosing one to put on our e-mail signature?”

Needless to say, we had a more in-depth conversation about hashtags. We also discussed developing a one-on-one social media workshop for him so that he could better understand social media from both a strategic and a tactical (tools and technology) viewpoint.

The challenge is that this person handles a component of communications at a senior level for a very high profile organization. He is one of a handful of people who provide guidance and advice to the CEO of this organization, including advice on social media. And he has been advocating for the use of Twitter and Facebook for a few months now.

Don’t get me wrong, the person who asked me about the “hash mark thingies” is very smart and highly successful in his field of expertise. However, he doesn’t understand social media and doesn’t realize how much he doesn’t know. That is an issue for his organization.

We get calls pretty regularly from senior people who want to know more about social media. Some of them want to meet privately and have a tutoring session; others want to include their senior team, their board or others in a social media workshop. I think that for those of us who are involved in the world of communications and PR, there is an assumption that everyone knows what we know. That just isn’t the case.

First off, the tools and technologies are ever evolving. It can be challenging to keep up. And, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Talking to your kids over dinner about Facebook or Twitter is not the same as having someone who understands your business goals and your communications objectives assist you in developing your social media strategy (as a part of your communications strategy). Social media is not a stand-alone or “stand-apart” component; it belongs in your overall communications plan.

The fact is – not every organization needs to be “active” on social media. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know what is going on in your industry or that you shouldn’t monitor what’s being said about your organization on social media. Both negative and positive conversations should be monitored. Developing your plan on how, what, when, where and why you will use social media is something that needs to be clearly defined and taken seriously.

Speak with your communications department, PR team or your consultant – or call us. We can help you define what you need when it comes to social media workshops or coaching.

Before you make any decisions about social media activities, make sure you understand the landscape relevant to your industry, the social media environment and what your risks and opportunities are – relative to your communications strategy.

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dreamstime_xs_31832574We recently had several discussions with clients and colleagues about the use and value of hashtags. For some professionals who aren’t regular users or participants in social media, there is a perception that a hashtag can be created and it’s then yours – that you kind of own it and have control over it. Nothing could be further from the truth. (If you aren’t quite sure what a hashtag is, please check out Wikipedia for a definition. And as a communicator, don’t assume that everyone knows what a hashtag is. It might be a common term in your world, but there are many who don’t know. And they might be afraid to ask for fear of looking stupid.)

While social media conversations and dialogue can be started, facilitated and participated in, any organization that believes that it can – for any length of time – control the dialogue is sadly mistaken (and really isn’t seeing the value of social media, in my opinion).

One of the interesting things to come out of advertising, marketing and even PR is the defined use of hashtags in campaigns. Many (usually larger) organizations use them in the hopes of driving social media users to help their hashtags trend and get their community to engage in positive sharing about their goods or services. That approach has some big risks involved. If it goes sideways, your hashtag no longer becomes a tool for positive communication; it can become a key facilitator for negative comments, humour at your expense and, at worst, attacks on your brand.

Hashtags are meant to allow people to easily find a topic, to bring people interested in a topic together organically, and to help organize and find the incredible amount of information out there on Twitter and Instagram. They aren’t meant as a promotional tool for your organization.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t use them in that way, but you do need to clearly identify the risks to this type of usage and have a plan in place in case your hashtag is hijacked. You can’t stop popular opinion (or in the case of Twitter – active opinion by a small, committed, influential and often really funny group of individuals). They could take what you thought was a brilliant promotional campaign and turn it into a mockery of your brand that then makes it onto The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or The Colbert Report. And that’s bad for your brand reputation.

I found a piece on Mashable that showcases some hashtag hijacks that have gone wrong (and one that went right as far as truth, justice and equality go). You can read it here. You have to admit, hashtag hijackers can be funny people.

We always go through a strengths, opportunities, weaknesses, threats (SWOT) review with clients if we are considering any kind of social media outreach. You can’t make assumptions that everyone is going to respond in the way you want them to/expect them to on social media. And it is always important to remember that you don’t own your hashtag, your Twitter feed, your Facebook page or other social networking sites. You might be the administrator who facilitates the discussion, but it’s the people who decide the tone and topic. Respect and appreciate that. Even if there are negative discussions, you can glean some valuable stakeholder/target market feedback. 

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