This time next week San Diego Comic-Con will be in full swing, opening to the public after Wednesday’s Preview Night events. I’ve written before about how I attended five years’ worth of SDCCs, from 2011 to 2015, on behalf of Voce client DC Entertainment.
The first year I did so I had to swallow a pretty big pill. Namely, I had to accept the fact that I was going to use a hashtag for the posts that made up that coverage.
My attitude toward hashtags was, for a good long while, pretty antagonistic. I didn’t like them, felt they were being used poorly by people to intrude on other conversations with inappropriate material and were just ugly in how they cluttered up the feed, particularly on Twitter. Over the years I’ve slowly come to a level of neutral acceptance toward them. I still don’t like the form factor involved. While hashtags are pretty popular on Twitter and Instagram, they’re dead-on-arrival on Facebook and LinkedIn, with almost no one using them.
I get, though, that they do form some sort of taxonomy for the social web. Back in the day we used to have tags that were added to blog posts (we still do, of course) and that you could search Technorati for. Now we have Twitter Search as well as other enterprise-level tools like Union Metrics, SimplyMeasured and others that will tell you how many times that hashtag has been used, what the impressions for Tweets including the hashtag were and more important numbers.
That’s largely what prompted me to reconsider my position and embrace the hashtag: Metrics.
One of the goals of most event coverage by a brand – including media companies – is to focus fan/attendee conversation in a way that most directly benefits the brand. The best way, I’ll argue, to do that in a disintermediated media world is through the use of hashtags that are unique to both the event and the brand.
Let’s the event in question is Big Time Convention. The event organizers might encourage people to use #BigTimeCon17. That’s great and any brand participating in and updating from the event should definitely use that. But when the social media team gets home at the end of the week they’re going to be asked to report on how many people were specifically talking about their news.
That’s where something new needs to come into usage. If AB Company is publishing from the event and wants people to be talking about their news announcements, it could encourage people to use #ABBigTime17. So a Tweet from AB might look like this:
We just announced our new Gizmo 7000 and people are anxious to hear more about it! See pics from our #BigTimeCon17 event. #ABBigTime17
That update not only respects the wishes of the organizer but also helps focus the conversation around the company and its news specifically.
By choosing and using an event-specific hashtag, reporting can be done after the fact. As I stated earlier, metrics tools will let you pull the number of people who used that hashtag, how many impressions all those tweets accumulated and more, all of which can (hopefully) be used to prove how your recommended strategy and tactics were successful. And as I did so repeatedly for multiple clients, I was able to build Storify collections recapping not only my own updates from an event but also including those from fans in attendance.
While I still think hashtags are ugly and that the overall user experience involving them could be vastly improved, I’ve come to understand and accept they have some utilitarian value. I’ve even begun (gulp) using them for my own purposes to make my Tweets more discoverable to anyone searching for popular industry-specific topics like #contentmarketing and more.
I realize that, to some extent, my push-back on them was the result of being a big stick in the mud. They were, after all, not that different from the tags used on blogs that help expose them to search results more efficiently. It’s just that, unlike on blogs, social media has no native taxonomy associated with it. So this tacked-on tool has always struck me as a bit wonky.
Despite that, I see the utility, especially when it comes to organizing people around something big. They may still be ugly, but they work.