If you’ve got two hours on your hands (who doesn’t?) check out this panel discussion I did at the recent Futures of Entertainment conference, as we discussed the futures of storytelling and sports.
I stumbled upon a cool site called visually that helps non-designers make Mashable-style infographics about their own Twitter data. It’s a pretty neat concept, and easy to execute.
To test it out, I quickly generated a month’s worth of data about the Celtics two primary promoted hashtags, “#iamaceltic” and “#celticschat“. #iamaceltic is used mostly in a marketing capacity, and we’ve put it everywhere from TV commercials to T-shits. #celticschat, on the other hand, is a utility hashtag, used to track the conversation around our games when the team is playing, and then captured on Celtics.com’s GameTime Live game tracking application. We’ve promoted the #celticschat tag in-game during broadcasts on Comcast SportsNet New England this season.
I’m not quite clear on how accurate this data is, or if it is generated with Firehouse access to Twitter, but regardless, here’s what it generated for our two tags. And as you can see below, there’s some missing data, so it’s unclear how stable the visual.ly platform is on the whole. Still, it’s a pretty interesting tool.
Of all the recent innovations in digital communications, the hashtag is among the most misunderstood and misused conventions.
Necessity is often the mother of invention, and in the case of the hashtag, it evolved from Twitter usersâ€™ desire to categorize their thoughts into groups. As the legend goes, @chrismessina, an early adopter of Twitter, suggested in a 2007 tweet, â€œhow do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?â€
how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?
— Chris Messinaâ„¢ (@chrismessina) August 23, 2007
The idea, of course, was to provide context and organization for his missives. Without such a utility, many of the communities that exist on Twitter may never have materialized. Likeminded users would struggle to find each other, and it could be argued that the platform as a whole may have stagnated without the semblance of order that hashtags provided in the early days.
Five years later, the convention has morphed dramatically. Far too often, the hashtag is misused for attempts at humor, sarcasm, irony, or simply to avoid using spaces, given that the 140 character restriction can be a bit, well, restrictive.
But itâ€™s not just individual users who misuse whimsical 45-character hashtags. Sadly, many brands and â€œgurusâ€ have poor understandings of how to use them. Plenty of them have been blindsided when their marketing plans blew up in their face.
But when used properly, hashtags are powerful tools for spreading your message, as well as measuring audience volume and sentiment. A well-promoted hashtag creates and curates online conversations about your topic, while categorizing that content for searches. Many vendors have built businesses around delivering relevant content powered in large part by sourcing hashtag content, which can then be embedded in your website, integrated into your broadcast, or ingested and displayed in venues via digital media displays.
For advertisers, buying sponsored tweets against a hashtag is still a nascent method for reaching a target audience, and if poorly executed, the purchase could end up doing more harm than good.
Spammers (and even mainstream marketers) often attempt to do this for free by tweeting unrelated content against trending hashtags. It even works sometimes. Trending hashtags can become the gateway to generating extra exposure for their Viagra offers on the backs of otherwise interesting and innocuous trends.
Thereâ€™s much to evaluate when launching a hashtag campaign. Since thereâ€™s no handbook, here are five guidelines for using hashtags in your marketing:
- Keep them short and sweet â€“ While thereâ€™s no official convention, Iâ€™d suggest that anything over 20 characters is way too long for a tag that youâ€™re going to ask people to use and retweet. In general, shorter is better, as long as the tag is specific enough to be absolute in its meaning. About 10-15 characters is probably the sweet spot. After all, youâ€™ve only got 140 characters to use, so the longer your tag is, the less room users will have to share meaningful thoughts about the topic.
Make them clear â€“ Youâ€™d like to think it goes without saying, but casual twitter users too often create lengthy tags that convey little to no meta information about their tweet. In fact, usually the â€œhashtagâ€ itself delivers more punch than the tweet. But the best hashtags are unambiguous.
For instance, Fox Sports recently used #Rivalry on screen during a Red Sox and Yankees national TV broadcast. While it was clear to viewers that Fox was referring to the age-old rivalry between the Red Sox and the Yankees, #Rivalry lacked context for Twitter users not watching the game; the hashtag was far too generic. Remember, hashtags on TV arenâ€™t just for your viewers, but theyâ€™re also free advertising to reach potential viewers who will be exposed to your tag in their timeline.
- Consider how it might be used against you â€“ If youâ€™re going to promote a hashtag, consider the fact that it could blow up in your face. Of all the classic examples, #McDStories is among the most notorious, as the fast food giantâ€™s detractors commandeered the generic tag by sharing horror stories about McDonaldâ€™s, turning their marketing dollars against them. Mitigate that risk by considering what might go wrong before handing your branding over to the public.
Promote it…without being obnoxious â€“ Twitter users understand what a hashtag is when they see it, but not everyone is familiar with the platform. So while the hashtag should be prominent enough to be recognized, thereâ€™s still a universe out there that doesnâ€™t even use or understand Twitter. Displaying your tag persistently on screen during a commercial or prominently in a print ad is an effective way to generate buzz and encourage use, but be mindful of cluttering your message with information thatâ€™s not necessarily relevant to a large portion of your audience.
Comedy Central was among the first media outlets to fully embrace the on-screen hashtag, tagging its Charlie Sheen Roast program with a #SheenRoast bug in the lower left hand corner of the entire broadcast. It was subtle, but effective. Similarly, NBC Sports is currently using the #StanleyCup hashtag just below their iconic peacock logo just next to the score at the top of the screen, away from the on-ice action but conspicuous enough to generate plenty of activity.
- Donâ€™t expect it to trend â€“ Set realistic expectations, and donâ€™t gauge your success on whether or not your hashtag managed to trend. Most trending topics happen organically, briefly, and with little fanfare. Instead, set specific, measurable goals for engagement. Then analyze the number of users tweeting your tag, the nature of the conversation around your brand, and finally, identify commonalities among influencers participating in your campaign. Your most invested fans will likely join the conversation by using the tag youâ€™ve provided, but how effective was your tag in reaching your existing audience, as well as a new audience?
Like most red-blooded American males, I grew up spending my Saturday mornings in the 80s watching the cartoonish gladiators of the WWE â€“ it was WWF back in my day â€“ battle in the name of good vs. evil. If you talk to your generational counterparts, they likely remember more than they’d care to admit about the wrestling from their childhood, from Jake the Snake Roberts to Ravishing Rick Rude.
These days, however, by leveraging the power of social media and specifically Twitter, WWE is revolutionizing the social TV experience. It’s worth keeping an eye on, even if you’re too cool to watch wrestling â€“ or admit to watching it.
Wrestling’s popularity seems to be cyclical not unlike the global economy, getting a boost every few years when a new personality breaks into mainstream media. Hulk Hogan and The Rock became household names thanks to their superstar status in the ring, and moved on to bigger and better things when ratings tapered off or storylines grew stale. Still, despite fluctuations in both popularity and mainstream exposure, wrestling’s been a consistent ratings generator for cable TV networks since the inception of the platform.
TV’s biggest evolution in recent years has been the proliferation of HDTV, but over the past 12 months, social media integration has really gained a foothold in the broadcast industry. Currently, WWE is perhaps the biggest TV brand that’s putting a headlock on hashtags and making their broadcast experience truly interactive, in the process becoming the undisputed champion of social TV.
WWE’s flagship broadcast Raw airs live on USA Network every Monday night, and claims to be the longest running episodic TV program in history. While you can classify it as wrestling, the matches seem to be few and far between, and the show’s content pinballs between sports, comedy, drama and reality TV. Raw is consistently the top-rated cable program in its timeslot from 9-11 PM, and that’s impressive, considering that the show competes head-to-head with Monday Night Football for nearly half the year.
While I’ve watched more than my share of wrestling over the years, I’ve recently been drawn back in by WWE’s impressive efforts in the social media arena, and their overt efforts to socialize their programming. I expect sports broadcasting to follow suit sooner rather than later.
The company has already established a huge footprint across Facebook and Twitter, with nearly seven million likes for WWE’s Facebook page alone. Still, that doesn’t count the audience that each of their wrestlers have accumulated. John Cena, wrestling’s biggest active star, has nearly nine million Facebook likes, while characters like Triple H (2.6 MM Likes), and CM Punk (~500k Likes) have large followings controlled by the company’s headquarters in Stamford, CT.
Most of the wrestlers have their own Twitter accounts, and they seemingly operate them with a great degree of autonomy. They also enjoy impressive followings on the platform; Cena has nearly one million followers, while CM Punk, a star who recently gained notoriety, enjoys an audience of nearly 385,000 on Twitter. It’s not uncommon for the wrestlers to extend their in-ring storylines to the digital media arena, tweeting at their opponents to keep the rivalries going throughout the rest of the week. It’s a clever way for WWE to blur the lines between the wrestlers’ real lives and characters, and it keeps fans interested even when WWE programming is off the air.
On the air, however, WWE is taking it a step further, deeply integrated Twitter into their weekly Raw broadcast. Moments after the show opens with a shower of pyrotechnics and blistering music, commentators instruct fans to tweet about the show with the hashtag #Raw. Lower thirds and theme songs trumpet wrestlers’ arrival on stage, but Raw recently added a new wrinkle. Almost every lower third features the wrestler’s name and his Twitter handle. It’s a nice touch.
Ironically, despite a significant effort to choreograph the conversation around the show, with such a massive social audience tuning in, WWE generates an enormous volume of organic chatter each Monday night. Characters, as well as their dialogue, regularly trend worldwide within moments after appearing on the show. This Monday night, 30 minutes into the program, “Kevin Nash”, “Teddy Long” and “Christian and Cody Rhodes” were all trending topics on Twitter.
For example, Kevin Nash is a longtime wrestling personality who recently resurfaced on WWE programming. Apparently, if you want to make an impact on Raw, the easiest way is to ambush your old friend Triple H from behind with a sledgehammer! Seems excessive, but it was certainly effective, as Nash killed two birds with one stone. He sent Triple H to the hospital, and instantly became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter. Charlie Sheen would call that “#WINNING.”
Minutes later, the show did something unique, displaying “Kevin Nash” in an on-screen graphic, declaring him as a worldwide trending topic as play-by-play commentators informed the audience of the accomplishment. (They also noted their concern for Triple H as he convalesced from the sledgehammer attack.)
Despite the violent nature of this Monday’s opening segment, Raw typically features more dialogue between the combatants than brutal attacks and proper wrestling matches. Semi-scripted diatribes from wrestlers directed at opponents or the crowd are called “promos” in the wrestling industry, and they convey much of the inherent storytelling of the program. It’s not uncommon for a character to make an obscure reference during a promo to get the audience’s attention, and typically, those references will trend in minutes as fans tweet about what their favorite hero or anti-hero is discussing.
Cena took it a step further on Monday by promoting his relatively unknown tag-team partner Zack Ryder in his backstage promo, telling his boss â€“ and the audience, for that matter â€“ to follow his Twitter handle (@ZackRyder). It was blatantly shoehorned into Cena’s segment, but it was another clever way to encourage audience participation.
Honestly, there was so much Twitter talk that it bordered on overkill; repeated mentions of Twitter throughout the two-hour live broadcast began to grow stale. WWE may want to dial it back slightly, because it threatened to become obnoxious. Still, they’re experimenting to find the proper mix of social integration to compliment their wildly successful show, and they’ve made a commitment to make Monday nights a social experience for wrestling fans and Twitter junkies alike. It’s groundbreaking stuff, and you can expect more of your favorite TV shows to follow their lead.