Mexico Tourism Board Los Cabos #Unstoppable

2 December 2014

#MakeItStop: 10 Don’ts About Marketing Hashtags

by Freddy Tran Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + #Strategist…

One hashtag, three problems…

  1. The other night I asked 50 marketing students what the Twitter hashtag #unstoppable represented. Some guessed it was for a movie. Others thought it was for a car company. None guessed the reality: it was for a Mexican tourism campaign — even the students from Mexico didn’t know about it.
  1. After I revealed the connection, the students still didn’t understand it until I explained it was about Los Cabo’s recovery from a hurricane.
  1. Finally, a search of #unstoppable on Twitter unearthed a few tweets from @LiveFromCabo buried in an avalanche of #unstoppable tweets about professional athletes, tow truck services, religions, and motivational-speaker pablum.

Now, one could argue that this vague generic hashtag “created awareness” of Mexico among tweeters using #unstoppable for other reasons, but that’s like a firing a shotgun in all directions while blindfolded in a forest hoping to hit a squirrel big enough to feed an entire family. Such wishful “thinking” has made Twitter a waste of time and money for most brands.

In other words, quite #stoppable.


This isn’t the only example of hashtag abuse — in fact, it’s far from the worst. At the least, the Mexico Tourism Board did promote #unstoppable on billboards and other outdoor ads, which is how I first saw it.

Yes, a poster on a bus stop can do more to create awareness than anything you do on Twitter.

The integrated marketing at least gave #unstoppable a slim chance of being associated with the campaign.

In general, most marketers don’t know how to use hashtags effectively. (Not surprising — even Twitter execs aren’t very good at using Twitter.) They just deceived themselves and their clients into thinking hashtags make them look “trendy” and “tech-savvy,” when it really makes them look clueless.

Since inane marketing hurts our entire profession, I’ve created this list of tips for hashtags. You’ll find a lot of other articles explaining what to do, but they apparently don’t get read. So I’m taking the opposite approach because it might receive more notice and, well, being a contrarian is much more fun.

  1. Don’t tweet without a hashtag. A hashtag injects you into a larger discussion, where people who don’t follow you might discover you. No, it won’t be a lot of people, and you’ll more likely win the lottery than get popular on Twitter. That said, a hashtag at least gives you a shot. Now, if your tweet doesn’t leave enough characters for a good hashtag, rewrite it, or add a # to a key word in your message.
  1. Don’t use more than 2-3 hashtags per tweet. #Too #many #hashtags #make #your #Tweet #hard #to #read — given how few tweets actually get read, don’t make yours a turnoff.
  1. Don’t waste time trying to make your brand name or product name a hashtag. Want your name to trend? Pay off Twitter with a sponsored trend, or do something gossip-worthy outside of Twitter where you stand a far better chance of getting noticed.
  1. Don’t forget to include RELATED topics as hashtags. For example, if I were tweeting for Ben & Jerry’s, I’d include #icecream or #dessert in most of my tweets — but not vague generic terms like #awesome or #unstoppable.
  1. Don’t include irrelevant hashtags just because they’re trending. Using a trending hashtag that has nothing to do with your tweet doesn’t make you look clever. It makes you look like a spammer. Hijacking a conversation is a great way to get flagged and even blocked.
  1. Don’t bother using hashtags on Facebook, where users happily ignore all of Twitter’s silly little complexities.
  1. Don’t use a hashtag until you find out what it’s about, even if it sounds like your brand or product. People might be talking about a disaster, death, or other tragedy, and you’ll look like a callous opportunist or an ignoramus for using that hashtag for marketing.
  1. Don’t waste your limited characters on obscure hashtags like #ISaidNoCheese. Unless you’re using a silly hashtag as a joke or ironic add-on, stick to one that might actually be used or looked up.
  1. Don’t bother with #FF or #FollowFriday. No one cares anymore. Indeed, few people ever did.
  1. Don’t feature a hashtag in a traditional media ad (like a TV commercial) unless you have a product that will excite the mostly young media junkies who use Twitter. What excites those people? Mostly youth-oriented TV shows and gossip. A hashtag for anything else is a feeble flickering hope that some TV viewer might drop everything they’re doing and tweet about you in a non-mocking way. And unless that someone is an influencer like a celebrity or journalist, their tweets will likely have ZERO impact. And did I mention that Twitter is a waste of time for most marketers? (Sorry, but social-mediocrity makes me rant and ramble.)

So if you’re running an ad for something like, say, a tourist resort — glamorous but not gossip-worthy — just promote a good old fashioned web address in it. I know, web addresses are so Web 1.0, but a website enables people to learn more about your product and give you money. In addition, interested users on your website could help boost its search engine optimization. At the end of the day, why detour your customers to boost Twitter’s traffic numbers when your website is where you need them to be?

That said, if you must tweet, do follow the 10 don’ts for hashtags. Otherwise, you might come across like these two guys…

Related article: Hypocritical Mass: The Big Lie About Twitter

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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