Social Media

Hashtag #overload

I’m not as stridently anti-hashtag as some others I know and as I may sometimes come off. As I’ve stated before I see their value, particularly when they’re used for specific, identifiable purposes. They can be used as fun and effective conversational rallying points and have great potential when they’re used for contests or other more campaign-level tactics. The analogy I often use of them being akin to blog categories comes into play when I use them: They are meant to break out either A) What is being published or 2) What others are being asked to publish in a way that makes conversations easy to track and participate in during short bursts of time.

TV networks, in an effort to make television viewing more “social” are taking this idea a bit far, though. If you watch TV, particularly on one network I won’t name here, you’ll see that these sorts of integration efforts are becoming ridiculous and, I suspect, have more potential to confuse and alienate people than to create a grand unified conversation.

Hashtags that encourage people to join the conversation on Twitter are now being flashed on screen on TV for a multitude of purposes. Not only do many shows sport a persistent hashtag that’s generic to the show all during the broadcast but lately certain sub-plots or segments within a show are getting their own. So an hour of television can sport two to up to six hashtags for a single show.

While the idea, again, is to get people talking about the show on Twitter – and therefore in public – in a trackable way the plethora of choices and prompts that are being thrown at them are, I’m guessing quickly becoming overwhelming. How closely are people going to be watching the show itself if they’re looking at their other devices and trying to figure out what hashtag to use at any given moment and for any given topic?

There’s a lot to be said for encouraging people to categorize their conversations. But what they’re really being asked to do is, as I said, participate in a very public conversation and do so in a trackable way.

Aside from all that, though, is the fact that by so heavily hashtagging programming marketers are bringing the same ugly experience to TV that was just starting, I think, to get sorted out on Twitter. Those hashtags, which are now links to a Twitter search for that term, appear as a big flashing speedbump to the natural conversation. They’re nasty looking and hard to read. I may be getting my curmudgeon on more than a little here but there’s nothing about a hashtag that says “good user experience.”

Watch for how many times one or more hashtags begin appearing in the TV shows you’re watching and consider what the call to action really is behind them. Is there something of value for you as a viewer to participating in those tracked conversations? Or do you feel your attention is being split too narrowly to make them worth your attention?