Simply using hashtags to host tweet-chats or promote one-off events has its place, but that strategy can be compared to taking your audience on a casual date. Sure it can be fun and interesting, and in some cases can even get you, um… paid. However, it alone does not demonstrate any long-term commitment to building a relationship with your following. Infrequent and sporadic engagement inevitably results in members losing interest or worse, feeling used.
The days of brands and influencers determining when and where they engage is coming to an end. We should not allow ourselves or our followers to be herded into hashtag bullpens and call it engagement. Sure, there’s a time and place for tweet-jams, but if that is the entrée of a deeper ongoing relationship then, we’ll all go home hungry. One-off social events are simply an appetizer that is commonly followed by demand for something more engaging.
It seems hashtags have exploded year over year with advertisers. You can’t escape them no matter where you look. From TV to billboard to print, they are slapped on everything. The other day I saw an ad promoting a new product with a hashtag. A click on the hashtag led to a stream of tweets talking about the product and promoting the hashtag. Really people? Are we going to allow for this? Is this your idea of engagement? Did you feel any closer to the brand because they hosted and promoted a hashtag? Did it inspire you to share ideas and advocate for that? Unlikely.
Of course, there is a time and a place for one-off hashtag chats that don’t require a ton of follow-up. I’ve seen my fair share of hashtag chats that happen once a week, at the same time every week, and are self-contained within the hour they are scheduled. They are not necessarily tied to a live event, a particular product or even a single topic – they’re one-offs…but one-offs with a difference: they happen regularly.
The difference between this type of regular hashtag chat and the product-centered chat in the example above is that at the end of the chat your audience knows you’ll be back, with your full attention, next week. The product-centered “one-off” chat had no follow-up with individuals, no interaction from the company, and no compelling reason for a customer to put any effort into forging a relationship with that company.
The most effective weekly hashtag chats are tied to a larger community. After the hour is up, the crème-de-la-crème of these chats will continue to have a steady stream of conversation, be actively managed by a host, and lead into the next week’s topic.
Social engagement isn’t a byproduct of publishing content. Authentic engagement comes from listening and building relationships. You shouldn’t be satisfied with meeting your audience at a bar, flashing a few hashtags around and hoping to score; you need to demonstrate commitment to building a mutually-beneficial relationship. This needs to be engrained in the culture of the brands and individuals that are building communities, or these communities will spark and fade before any lasting benefits can be realized.