Hashtag Spam

03.5.10

Hashtag Spam and twitter parties (they are synonyms). If you are not familiar with Twitter, you might not be familiar with hashtags, surely you are familiar with Spam.

Twitter is a microblogging service. You can update your status using just 140 characters. It’s not quite a bulletin board, but it’s not a blog either. In order to maximize your very brief updates, you can add a hashtag to a word and twitter will make is searchable. A hashtag is the number sign #. When groups of people use a hashtag it makes it easier for them to find each other. Quite often at an event there will be a predetermined hashtag in use. The 140 Conference uses the hashtag #140conf take a look at how helpful an event hashtag can be. Shortly, we will all be able to see SXSW emerge as a trending topic, and, for lack of a better term, get the back channel of the conference and it’s parties (or is it the parties and the conference?).

Hashtags, like anything, can be used well, or can be the source of spam. Spam is defined by wikipedia as “the abuse of electronic messaging systems (including most broadcast media, digital delivery systems) to send unsolicited bulk messages indiscriminately.” Hashtags are free to create, and could be a marketing dream. Marketers appear to have forgotten that a “free hashtag” isn’t a one way street. Remember when Skittles thought that they would build a platform based on a simple feed? Walmart tried selling mom jeans just two short months later with a “twitter party” (more on twitter parties later), that ended with this (click the picture for a close up):
Walmart Porn

What’s most shocking though, is that all these months later businesses still haven’t learned. Recently Maria Bailey used the hashtag #WashThemGrow to sell Suave baby soap, but when people asked about the toxicity and the facts surrounding some of it’s ingredients, the twitter party shut down and this was posted about 24 hours later (*eyeroll* I know). I know that Corporate America moves slowly, but this chugging along is ridiculous. Learn something, learn now.

Hashtag parties are spam. Jessica Smith recently wrote that “hijacking a hashtag” is spamming people. I would disagree. The corporate creation of a hashtag is incredibly intrusive. Businesses should be thrilled and honored if they get mentioned on twitter, why on earth would they feel like they have the right to a free focus group? Further, I’d argue that if you actually look at these “parties” it’s the same group of 100 women every week. Can’t you just send them an email? It appears that they are willing to sell just about anything to each other.

Every Friday Twitter becomes unusable to me. I love the way #FollowFriday began, but (to borrow a phrase from Scoble) it has devolved into a mess. I can’t see through the lists of names to actually get to the content, and I don’t want to unfollow people for just one day. May I kindly suggest that if you use #followfriday that you limit it to just one person and also give us all a reason that we should follow them?

I’d like to suggest we all take a page from the Twitter Handbook, listen and love. It’s incredible that Jack‘s interest in the routes of New York City messengers could bring about Twitter. I know some of y’all don’t recognize the import of Twitter, but those newfangled telephones were considered pretty intrusive too. In 1876 folks just hated that darned thing. Much like twitter, they started out as a party line. I think twitter lists and DM’s have brought us closer to the Baby Bells.

Again, if you can look at the internet and see it as one gigantic party line, well, you’d see that Hashtag Parties alienate more than they embrace. They serve the same small circle of potential customers each week, and they are seen by the rest of the community as corporate sponsored spam.

The reason that people are hijacking your beloved hashtag is because it irritates them. I know that sometimes we look at our own work, and can’t see the flaws. This isn’t bad, it’s normal. Sometimes an outside observer is needed. #Journchat is never spammed, why? Because #Journchat brings immense value to the people who participate in it, and (people like me) who simply read the stream either live or later. The world doesn’t owe you anything, and Twitter is a place that recognizes and quantifies that.

Have I said it enough ways?

If you’re having a party conference, by all means let people pick a hashtag, but if your party only lives on twitter… well, congratulations, you are a spammer.

UPDATE: AdAge has an interesting and related post: Do People Tweet About Brands More Out Of Hate Than Love?

The FTC And Mommy Bloggers: Tech Talk Tuesday

05.19.09

I’d planned a post about E911 and the need to keep your land line. But today’s headlines have me changing course.

BusinessWeek wrote a short article about the “influence” that’s both paid, and unpaid in the blogging world. Naturally, they focused on the Mommy Blogging World, and naturally they focused on Jessica Smith. There is an 86 page PDF on the site that serves as proposed guidelines to bloggers. I recommend reading the PDF and then taking the the article as commentary.

Jessica Smith puts herself out there. She was one of the original Wal Mart Eleven Moms (I forgive her for that), she’s accepted a Ford for a year after writing a very complimentary review of their car, and she has been paid by just about every company a Mommy Blogger would hope to woo. I want to tell you two things about Jessica.

Jessica Smith isn’t a Mommy Blogger. I’ve scoured Jessica’s site and I can’t find anywhere that she calls herself a Mommy Blogger. Jessica refers to herself as a PR person and a marketer, and I totally respect her as such. Jessica has a blog. But a Mommy Blogger? No, is she a friend of the Mommy Bloggers? Yes. Jessica Smith might be the best friend a Mommy Blogger has. She’s a Mom and she’s a marketer with a blog that appears to be well compensated.

Secondly, within this space I’d consider Jessica Smith a friend. We’ve certainly had our go-rounds, but from my perspective she is completely up front and just working hard to support her own lifestyle. Jessica often recruits Mom Bloggers for paid work. I respect that. She’s introduced me to some pretty terrific women, and her reputation is stellar. She’s an honest woman. I give you honesty and demand it from the people in my life. Honest is good.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is looking to make some changes. According to these documents the the FTC will be attempting to hold bloggers to some of the journalistic standards that real journalists are held to. If the FTC has it’s way there will be no more eczema cures from hand creams or reviews of car seats that magically appear at people’s homes. I welcome this change.

I’m pitched every day. I have a filter set up for press releases, and for the most part I file them away, never to be seen again. I have a few publicists I’m happy to hear from. There’s one lady out of New York that always has a great small business to introduce me to. I desperately want to point y’all to small businesses and organic practices. I typically keep reviews or mentions of specific products off this blog, I write at a number of other places, and I like to keep my reviews there, where I’m paid, so I don’t have to worry about the messiness of accepting free crap, I can simply write.

Would I accept a laptop from Microsoft (as others have)? Maybe, if I needed one. Let’s be clear though, the price of free is high. Is my blog now a Microsoft Sponsored blog? Do you care what I have to say about a product if it’s been given to me? What if my policy is to only write nice reviews? How would I be taxed on that “free” laptop?

My promise to you is to be honest when I talk about a product. If it is given to me, I will tell you. Things do not just appear in my home. It is not acceptable (in my mind) for a blogger to say, “Occasionally I enjoy featuring something that I really like (sometimes it’s given to me, sometimes I buy it myself).

I’m not the one making the rules. I love the blogosphere, I love that we’re writing the rules as we go along. Publicists will need to be more careful, perhaps asking bloggers for free reviews and then giving them eight pages of “product detail” will cease to be the norm. I doubt it.  As one of my favorite publicists once said, “there are legions of 23 year olds in fake Louboutins screwing this up for everyone.”

I’m sad for Jessica that she’s once again being held up as the standard of a blogger on the take. I could easily direct you to a dozen “mommy blogs” that call themselves Mommy Bloggers and haven’t a lick of original (or literate) content. I’m not really into giving them traffic though.

The advertising firms and the PR firms will need to choose their bloggers wisely. Thus far, the selections have been mind-boggling. I’d rather have no mention of me than a mention from ____.  I’ll give you a hint, the lists suck. I’m just going to grab a handful of popcorn, sit back, and watch the show.