Recently the Wall Street Journal reported that they had noticed a new Twitter feature when adding hashtags to their tweets. They shared a screenshot where their hashtag shorthand added further text to clarify the subject matter. #oitnb showed “Orange is the New Black” and #manutd became “Manchester United.”
The move isn’t unusual, as Twitter are known to experiment with developmental features. With over 200 million users, it’s not difficult to try new ideas on small groups and expand accordingly. Savvy enough to recognize growth in mobile social media, recent improvements have been better image sharing for iPhone users.
According to the WSJ, “The new hashtag definition feature could be designed to help ease new users into the social network, which has struggled to grow its user base in recent years—though it showed stronger growth the second quarter of this year.”
How exactly we are expected to benefit from this experiment is a little unclear at present. At best it means less confusion over hashtags, but at worst it will mean that brainstorming hashtags will become an impossibility.
Own Your Own Hashtag
Imagine trying to brand your business with a new hashtag that hasn’t already been assigned a meaning. If the idea goes ahead it means hashtags will become almost proprietary. This could go badly for some businesses who have had the foresight to use hashtags in their marketing campaigns.
Who decides what the official Twitter designation will be for a hashtag? If you already have one established, what happens if it has a different meaning that Twitter decides should be the official one? If alternative meanings are at odds with the message you are trying to promote, it may be a harsh blow to your marketing efforts.
Leading brands who have made excellent use of hashtags in the past include Nike with their #makeitcount and Budweiser’s domination of recent football events with #riseasone. You’ll note that these hashtags are like calls to action, each evoking a very active response to the product.
Hashtags have even helped big brands drive engagement across various social platforms by encouraging fans to share links, offers and images with specific hashtags in competitions. Even more inventive, some companies offer customer support via hashtags. It’s an ideal way to get right to the center of the marketplace.
Though Twitter has been known as the leader at the forefront of hashtag usage, Google Plus, Facebook and Pinterest have followed suit. Just what exactly Twitter’s experiment may mean for hashtags on those sites will remain to be seen.
Do You Speak Hashtag?
Personally, the idea reminds me of Esperanto – the universal language that was to help the world unite with a common form of expression. Except nobody learned it and the idea is now a rusting wreck on a Wikipedia page.
Hashtags need to be an open-ended means of communication if their use is to continue. While it does make sense for well-known abbreviations such as #manutd to have long form labels attached, it doesn’t make sense to allow a minority have virtual ownership of a hashtag and its inherent meaning.
What’s your #pointofview?