Triggered by a recent debate on whether brands can hijack hashtags to promote their own messages, this article looks into where the industry is headed – a war of ethics or an urgent call for innovation.
Almost the whole of last year, we came across various hashtags in the trending topics on Twitter, and wondered about the brand that must have started it. Surely, the whole of India cannot be tweeting about #ReplaceMovieTitleWith****. This has to be the handiwork of some ‘uncreative’ agency.
But this year, there has been a significant change in the trending topics created by brands – trends have become malleable and can lend themselves beautifully with organic conversations on Twitter. Brands now ‘push’ their messages disguised within such smart, organic trends.
Lets look at an example
A generic hashtag like #SistersAreFun can be leveraged to gel with the RakshaBandhan celebrations by a brand. Let’s suppose a popular jewellery brand is doing this on Twitter and while they are at it, #SistersAreFun starts trending in a few hours, due to its sheer connect on RakshaBandhan day. Looking at #SistersAreFun at the top, another popular brand dealing with cosmetics jumps into the foray and starts ‘pushing’ its own message.
So what does one make of this? Is the cosmetics brand wrong in basking in the glory created by the jewellery brand or is it fine since #SistersAreFun is not owned by the jewellery brand. Twitter defines hashtags as a means for users to categorise their messages and does not state the creator to be the owner of the hashtag; anybody can click a hashtagged word and see all tweets marked by it.
Hence, it is just a matter of ethics within the industry.
Yesterday, a popular bike oil brand that leverages social media towards building a bikers community, started a trend with #YouAreABikerIf with the below tweet:
Soon another brand that delves in comedy dived in and employed the same hashtag to market itself, which it does often with popular hashtags.
Now this has stirred a debate in the industry that whether it was right for the comedy brand to use another brand’s hashtag that was specifically created by them for their contest. We bring you both sides of the debate and what we think about this commonly occurring phenomenon on Twitter.
Brands should not replicate properties
One school of thought revolves around the idea that any brand can participate in an interesting trend whereas another takes an opposing view to this and even goes as far as to term this as ‘social pimping’, because the said trend, #YouAreABikerIf in this case, was a property of the bike oil brand.
One may argue upon the ownership of hashtags but we are of the opinion that no brand can own a hashtag even if it is created by it for a contest. However, for an ethical functioning of the digital industry, it is a good practice for brands to cash in upon their own hashtags. Brands should steer clear from picking on trending hashtags that some other brand has strived hard to trend.
Brands should instead indulge in creating/using generic hashtags to ‘push’ their messages innovatively. I am reminded of a Twitter campaign done a few months back by Reliance to create buzz for its ‘Be Blue’ campaign on Twitter.
The campaign employed a generic hashtag ‘#FeelingBlue’ without associating Reliance with it. The main strategy behind the Twitter campaign was to capitalise upon mundane Monday mornings and then progressively create a brand connect. Initially, #FeelingBlue caught on with twitteraties as it seemed to be an organic trend on a Monday morning.
But then came in other brands to capitalize upon #FeelingBlue as it was trending at the top. Brands often do that since nobody really ‘owns’ the hashtag. It trended due to its strategic execution on a Monday and everybody in the digital space promoted their stuff, including regular users.
In this case, I believe it is ok for other brands to employ #FeelingBlue since it wasn’t revealed to have originated from Reliance until then. A generic hashtag is everybody’s property on Twitter.
Brands should not sell followers
Another part of this argument relates to the approach by the comedy brand. It not only opposes the offering of #FFs to the tweeters but also questions the relevance of ‘#YouAreABikerIf’ to the comedy brand.
We believe that comedy can be associated to anything, hence the question of hashtag relevance does not hold here. Besides, I have seen the comedy brand doing some kind of promotions on the trending topics quite often.
But offering users with #FFs is not the best way to approach this. You need to give value to your community who likes comedy. This could be done either in terms of giving a #FF only to the funniest tweet around the hashtag or just appreciating it. Remember your followers appreciate comedy and would need a strong reason from you as to why they should follow whoever you recommend.
We believe a little creativity would help here and that’s not tough for a comedy brand!
All said and done, it is a fight between ethics and greed at the end. While greed might give you the numbers, ethics will earn you respect. But innovation will take you places.
Twitter has immense potential for creativity. I would particularly like to cite the campaign for the movie ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, where the agency recreated one of the main characters from the movie on Twitter. This was well complimented by the community that went on to recreate the remaining characters on Twitter!
So if we are questioning that Indian social media is not innovating then it’s not true. It is a medium that is still developing and in this development stage, we will find experiments which would be questioned. However, the onus lies on the bigger brands to set innovative as well as ethical benchmarks.
P.S. Article produced with inputs from Prasant too!