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#Hashtag Abuse – Marketing It Into The Grave

© 2013 Scott Strange, Strangely Diabetic and

Hash tags are wonderful things on Twitter.  Used to “brand” a discussion revolving around some central topic. They make it easier to find information of interest. They also make finding people with similar interests simpler, remember that is what social media is all about: Connecting with other people.

If I search for the hashtag “#dblog”, I will find tweets announcing recent blogs about diabetes and related topics.  Very handy. If I tweet with a “#hcldr” hashtag, I am announcing something that might be of interest to a very specific group of people and these people may not have a a real interest in “#dblog”; the hashtag allows us to filter out things that may not be of interest.

But, as with anything, they can be abused. Used poorly. Abused to the point where they really stop having much of a meaning at all.

Conferences. A gathering of people interested in a certain industry or topic. A majority, probably a vast majority, of potential attendees for a conference are unable to to go due to expense, time, etc. Twitter has really opened up the door on these events that people have an interest in but are unable to attend.

As attendees tweet about what has been said at various conference sessions, virtual attendees are able to participate and converse about the points made. In effect, vastly increasing the number of people ‘touched’ or ‘impressed’ by the conference.

Analysis of this type of outreach, in healthcare tweets at least, is possible using website called Symplur. Symplur aggregates data about the tweets made for a hash tag. How many tweets, who tweeted the most and how many ‘impressions’ were made.  Every person on twitter has followers. When they tweet, or retweet, something, everyone of those followers could potentially read the tweet thus becoming ‘impressed’ by it.  Add all the followers for all the tweeters using a given hashtag and it’s possible to see how many people have been reached by the hashtag and, in this instance, the conference.

Recently the American Association of Diabetes Educators held their 2013 conference in Philadelphia.  As expected, the tweets started rolling out and  from my desk, some 1,100 miles away, everything seemed fine.  Until the vendor hall opened. One particular vendor started tweeting pictures of people visiting their booth, lots of them.

I’m sorry @ACCUCHEK_AADE13 but you’re getting thrown under the bus for this one…

They were running a ‘Splash of Color’ marketing campaign. People were stopping at the booth, choosing a color badge and having their picture taken and it seemed pretty popular. @ACCUCHEK_AADE13 would then post them to Instagram and tweet the link.  No harm in that really until you get to the point of ‘too much of anything can be bad’. These tweets rapidly fell into the spam category for me.

The bad occurred when I would check the  twitter for that specific hashtag, called a stream, and see multiple tweets in a row of those picture posts. often 2 or 3 screens full. The effect of this is that other, non-commercial, tweets being made would often ‘get lost’ in the stream.

For me, identifying tweets from people I respect involves more than the hashtag. It also involves the little picture on each tweet that is used as a profile picture. I spot the profile picture of the tweets coming in and pay extra attention to what they are tweeting.

Tweets get ‘lost’ from simple visual overload. 10 or 15 tweets from a single person, with a single image, make it difficult to spot the other images that may be imbedded in the tweet stream.

It got to the point where I literally stopped following the stream.  The ‘Splash of Color’ marketing campaign had killed it for me, it became unusable. Or rather it became much more work than I was willing to exert. All because of a marketing campaign.

I haven’t really seen this level of disruption by an actual vendor attending a conference before, although I have seen spammers hijack a hashtag.  They flood the original hashtags with spam tweets, rendering it useless and organizers announce a new one for the event.

I’d really hate to see virtual attendees be, in effect, ‘locked out’ of a conference in this manner.  I think it is overly intrusive and actually tends to bias me against the a vendor’s products.

Solutions? Well, they could have sent a tweet every 20 or 30 minutes with a link to the Instagram feed about the campaign.  I think that would have been very reasonable.  As a matter of fact, the might have gotten more views that way since the way they were doing it probably caused their tweets to be ignored for the most part.

The only other option I can think of would be a second hash tag for commercial use, but that seems awkward in this age of supposed collaboration.

How about we all, attendees and vendors alike, just agree to tweet responsibly?


© 2013 Scott Strange, Strangely Diabetic and

  • blogbrevity

    Hi Scott, You may find a tool for monitoring hashtag conversations like handy. You can exclude a user or a term from the hashtag search. Then you can enjoy the hashtag conversation. This is also useful for conference organizers who display tweets at their events as it also addresses unwanted spammers. Link:
    Cheers! Angela
    @blogbrevity @healthiscool

    • Rich the Diabetic

      Wow! Thanks Angela! I had no idea there were tools that could this for us. Thanks for your reply. 🙂

      • blogbrevity

        My pleasure! Glad you found it helpful, Rich. 🙂

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