The Back Story - Scroll Down for the Advice
Twitter users of all kinds use hashtags. The link-enabled label sweeps its way across tweets and other places like television shows. Sometimes these hashtags are to emphasize that you are feeling #Excited. Sometimes these hashtags replace sentences. #DontReallyDoThis. #ItsABadUseOfTwitter. Sometimes these hashtags are a way for a community with a common interest to share their thoughts, network, and even chat.
Now, I have to take a second to thank my sister for being the giant database of all things YouTube related. It is her source of entertainment, and it provides me with a really great story and set up for this post.
Rhett and Link are not only Youtubers, but they are very popular YouTubers. They put out their video in the morning and start each video with, "Good Mythical Morning." to all of their mythical beasts (followers/subscribers/fans). The community that follows Rhett and Link on Twitter and otherwise communicate using the hashtag #GMM. That is all fine and well, but starting Tuesday, tension started brewing.
Two news stations, one in Memphis and the other in Maryland started to get into the social media game in trying to connect with their viewers. I can speculate all day why they did not consider a more unique hashtag, but in instead, they went into the #GMM arena as "Good Morning ______" with the blank being either Memphis or Maryland, respectively. Rhett and Link noticed and put a call out to the news stations offering advice that they all can not use #GMM because the different communities would not be able to effectively communicate with those sharing the interest. Rhett and Link indicated that by shear mass of the tweets, they suggested that these stations find a better, more suitable hashtag unique for their community.
The news stations did not take it kindly and stated that they were the rightful holders of the #GMM hashtag. The response from Rhett and Link as well as their mythical beasts was outstanding. An all out "Hashtag War" broke out. Fans of Rhett and Link were tweeting to the news reporters as well as the station account all of their feelings and support for the YouTubers. The news reporters fought back with tweets of their own. You can catch the declaration here and an update of the war (still technically going on) from Rhett and Link here.
I think I can safely say that the biggest issue was not the way each party behaved, but the lack of a social media strategy and poor research. Even following this flowchart to the left provided by Mashable could have saved a lot of problems.
Steps to Prevent A Hashtag War
Develop a Strategy - Before you or your company/organization/institution decides to get involved in social media, have a plan in place. My Twitter colleague Josie, @josieahlquist helps define the differences between policies, guidelines and practices, and ultimately helps show what should go into the strategy at the same time. Another fatal flaw that I noticed in this hashtag war was the news reporter accounts lacked professional identity. If you are going to represent your institution/company/organization in you Twitter handle, name, or bio, a professional photo is a necessity and not a photo of your dog or otherwise.
Identify Multiple Potential Hashtags - So you end up with a plan to have a place for your community to engage each other. GREAT! Hashtags provide that ability. Have a few ideas and keep them short to maximize Twitter's 140 character limit. If it is an event, try to refrain from throwing the year on the end so you can save characters and be able to use an archiving service and look at data from year to year.
Search Before You Speak! - Do a Twitter search to identify those already in use. Find one that is not being used. As Rhett and Link pointed out, the hashtag is not just a promotional gimmick, it is what brings a community together. Find the hashtag that is going to bring your community together without being diluted of others from a different community. Once you find one of your potential hashtags and it is not being used? Share it with the masses that is your community!
Hashtags are for Your Community - Yes, it is fun to emphasize that you are #Excited for something. Yes, it is #CuteWhenYourHashtagIsTheTweet. When you do these things (and I am guilty of it too), they really and honestly do not do anything for you. However, if you want to chat with your fellow fans of #Glee, yell how much you are upset that so-and-so was voted off of #Survivor, or talk with your colleagues in student affairs through #SAchat, then you are really getting to the real essence of what a hashtag does for you.
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#GMM is for Good Mythical Morning
For the latest on the #GMM Hashtag War: Click Here