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Are We Hashtag Obsessed?

hashtag

It’s happening more and more often these days; you’ll be watching one of your favourite TV programs and then, suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere, a Twitter hashtag appears on the screen.

Sometimes it’s a subtle affair; The Apprentice has its corresponding Twitter account appear quietly and without fanfare at the bottom of the screen at the beginning of the program then disappears for the rest of the show.

In contrast, WWE’s sports entertainment programming absolutely bombards their viewers with plugs for Twitter, Tout, their app and more throughout the proceedings. Their flagship show, RAW, has a running time of three hours, guaranteeing an awful lot of product placement in place of actual content.

Reliance on Social Media

It’s easy to see why program developers and advertisers are relying more and more on social media. The majority of television’s demographic is active on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites, so much so that it has become an integral aspect to their daily lives. However, the question of true effectiveness remains; is incorporating the world of the internet into other media a clever strategy for brand awareness, or is it merely an irritant that actually turns people away?

It’s important to look at why this is happening more and more in other media and what the intended effect of it is. On the surface, it’s simple: the internet is the dominant sphere in which people communicate with each other and share things of interest. Marketers can use the interactive nature of the internet in order to raise awareness of brands, products, campaigns and so on for minimal cost and maximum exposure.

It’s a great example of affordable search engine optimisation; get something trending on Twitter and your customers are doing the job for you. Hashtags are a simple and effective way to bring people together and get them talking over a shared topic, whether it’s an episode of a program, a social theme or a campaign looking to raise awareness. In fact, it seems like nowadays if you want to get something into the public consciousness quickly, just put it on the internet.

Desperate hashtagging

However, there is a downside to this marketing approach. Sometimes this kind of integration becomes obnoxious. Hashtags are becoming so important to marketers that it feels like they’ll stick one anywhere in the hope that it will garner some attention.  The music industry, for example, has suffered greatly since the dawn of the internet age, with downloading and file-sharing dramatically affecting sales. Obviously, this a cause for concern for anyone that works in the music business, and this in turn has led to a significant shift in the approach to marketing songs and artists.

There are two notable examples of music attempting to incorporate social networking and arguably failing to succeed. The first was a song produced by Will.i.am, former Black Eyed Peas member and current ubiquitous television personality, called #thatpower, taken from the album #willpower. It wasn’t as if there was an accompanying Twitter campaign in an attempt to spread the word and hopefully boost sales, it was a just a title that was also a hashtag taken from an album that is also named after a hashtag.

For many, this was a shamelessly blatant attempt to cash in a current trend rather than a clever, innovative way to generate hype. It made Will.i.am seem like a hack that isn’t in the industry for the music anymore, but for easy self-promotion.

william

This was followed shortly after by Robin Thicke’s song ‘Blurred Lines.’ The video drew some controversy over its hyper-sexualised content (it features a lot of topless women placed there for no discernible reason other than sex sells), but that wasn’t the only issue. Several times throughout the video, #RobinThicke appears in huge red letters that fill the entire screen, obscuring what’s actually happening in the video. This, like Will.i.am’s efforts, was obnoxious to the point that the video became off putting. Music videos are meant to advertise the artist, so dropping in this monolithic hashtag over and over again did nothing but alienate audiences. This is not a subtle integration of social media into other mediums; this is beating the viewer over the head with a stick.

Everyone agrees: overreliance on hastags is annoying. Does it really have to be so obvious?

The answer to that question is a clear and emphatic ‘no’. Clearly, there is need for a balance that currently does not exist. Using social networking as a form of marketing is effective and handy, but it’s also not impervious to the whims and choices of the people making use of it.

Continuing this trend of over stating the influence of social media in other media such as music and television runs the risk of alienating customers and audiences and actually stopping people from participating. Instead, marketers should be encouraging participation through subtle and nuanced integration of twitter and facebook into these programs, reminding audiences that their contributions are important rather than a tool for pushing an agenda.

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Sarah Atkinson

Search Marketing Executive
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