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?