Smoking Hashtags

TGIF, right? Yeah, that used to be more exciting before they pulled Family Matters, Step by Step and Boy Meets World from the best programming block this side of Thursday nights on NBC circa 1996, but now, Fridays just mean having to see #FollowFriday (or #FF, if you f-ing like) proliferate throughout my social stream.

I’ve always hated these because they’re not only pandering, but was a trend started by Mashable, the landing spot for all douche canoes floating on social streams. I understand it even less considering that Twitter, in particular, has a pretty good algorithm displaying people you should follow that really defeats the point of this weekly onslaught of hashtag abuse.

Which got me thinking a little about the purpose of hashtags.

Hashtags are a great way to follow conversations and events on social; they’re also a great litmus test for how big a douche someone is before connecting with them. My personal theory on hashtags is unless at a conference, they should used organically (e.g. “This post on content #marketing kicks ass”) and sparingly. They can also be used for subtext, which is how I choose to use hashtags #whocares.

But for some reason, there are those people out there – everyone’s following a few – who feel the need to append a hashtag to every friggin’ word they post (“#Twitter #ShoutOut to #FollowFriday #Friends” – real example I just saw pop up in TweetDeck).

OK, quick quiz…who’s ever done a search or cared to follow a conversation about, say, #UnitedStates or #ColumbusDay? My guess is either idiots or content marketers, if you can spot the difference. There’s even a growing trend of people using their own names as a hashtag on every. single. update. That’s why there’s that username field, jackass.

I obviously love event hashtags because, well, if I’m at an event and the speaker sucks or I’m bored – two phenomena which occur with great frequency – I at least get to keep myself entertained. They’re also a great tool for tracking impressions, reach and transcript generation on different platforms if you’re a marketer – but those metrics are meaningful mostly for short term events and specific campaigns.

But the omnipresence of hashtags is rendering them relatively passé – I mean, when you can tweet along with the official hashtag for Good Morning America or “join the conversation” about a Taco Bell commercial, hashtags don’t create relevance – just more noise in a medium which really doesn’t need it.

#TGIF #PatrickDuffy #Backintheday

With Google+ gaining market share (including more prominent search results from content hash tags on this network) and people just starting to figure out how to tag posts on Facebook (speaking of extraneous), this is one trend that looks like it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

I’m hoping these go the way of the QR code, which is to say, everywhere but never used, but I’m guessing with Twitter’s impending IPO, the following things could likely to happen to hashtags:

1. Pay for Play: Twitter limits usage of popular, monetizable hashtags (think #jobs) and keeps following, engaging and retweeting these hashtags free, but charges a nominal fee for anyone to post original content within these streams.
2. Targeted Promotions: Companies and agencies can pay to send a DM (or e-mail, since they’re required at sign-in) to anyone using a particular hashtag, similar to the Sponsored Tweet feature but more intrusive – and therefore, more appealing to advertisers.
3. Data Aggregation: In the most likely scenario, Twitter will take control of its aggregate data by taking back APIs from third parties selling products or offerings which do deep demographic dives on their network, and make this advanced analytics a key component of a premium B2B offering, with hashtag analysis & user insights being the most prevalent – and likely standard – means of user segmentation. I see hashtags being used as one of the key metrics for selling targeted advertising, the equivalent to keywords on Google, generating ad results both in content and in display/promoted posts.

Next time you update, think carefully: do I really need to append a bunch of unnecessary pound signs to reinforce my message or drive visibility? If so, cool, if not, stop being a “social media guru” and communicating on social like a real person. That’s supposedly the reason this medium even exists.

Originally posted on RecruitingBlogs.com

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