Hashtags As Labeled Rooms Where Communities Meet
Last time we spoke about hashtags as labeled sections on a bulletin board. This is a good analogy when you think about disseminating messages that you want to draw attention to. But the bulletin board analogy doesn’t reflect the “social” aspect of social networks.
As a matter of fact, hashtags aren’t just a fundamental tool to broadcast information to the right audience; they’re also a great tool to find and meet people who share your interests - both personal and professional ones. Among these people you can find those that can help you extend your influence through their own larger audiences, therefore further amplifying and endorsing your message.
To visualize this point of view, a much more fitting analogy are the rooms of a club.
It’s no coincidence that the inspiration for adding hashtags to Twitter came from chatrooms. When Twitter was small and users were few, having genuine conversations was much more prevalent than it is today. Chris Messina, the inventor of the hashtag, suggested to adopt this convention exactly to create “rooms” where you could discuss specific subjects even with people you didn’t know yet.
This helped creating many interest-based communities. Hashtags allowed you to discover like-minded people and then connect with them. People who had something interesting to share could easily build a following and meaningful relationships. With the gargantuan size of today’s Twitter - and that of the other major social networks - this is a much rarer event, but not all is lost!
Room Types: The Public Square
The biggest rooms - the most popular hashtags - don’t look like rooms at all. They rather resemble big and noisy squares with hordes of people incessantly coming and going, and all of them wanting attention!
In these rooms/squares there is usually very little sense of community, if at all, and, if you asked who are the leaders/influencers, you would mostly come out with some out-of-reach celebrities that from time to time come to grace the onlookers with their hyper-amplified messages and maybe get a buzz going for a few hours.
For most marketers and communicators, finding meaningful connections in these places is really a hit-and-miss game - with much more misses than hits. Try your chance if you want, but our suggestion is to focus on much better playing fields.
Most viral hashtags, hashtags about current world events, and very general interest subjects generate Public Square “rooms”.
Room Types: The Specialty Room
Some subjects, like for example data visualization techniques or embroidery, have an inherently smaller audience. But also the subjects with the broadest appeal, like music or news, have more specialized sub-subjects of various niche levels; think classical music or Vatican City local news.
It is at this smaller - and especially niche - level that healthy online communities can still form around one or more specific hashtags, forming their own specialty rooms.
These thriving communities have their own unwritten rules, and, most often, some widely recognized reference points - their top influencers. Here you can also build your own significant, or at least useful, relationships.
This will usually require a healthy investment in time, resource and budget too, but if you find the right hashtags and communities, it will give you the highest long-term return. We’ll go into more details in future lessons, but the general process can be summarized in these steps:
- Find some right-sized and well functioning communities in your field of interest, and their rooms/hashtags
- Find their influencers, study them and learn the unwritten rules and conventions
- Participate and add value to the community, without focusing too much on yourself and your message
- Strike significant relationship, always keeping an eye on the top influencers that are within your reach, but without focusing only on them
Room Types: The Branded Room
Until now, we focused mostly on industry/interest hashtags, which usually come from the bottom up in a completely organic way. A different case is the campaign hashtag, purposefully created and steered by some organization or business. This brings us to the branded room.
The biggest difference between these rooms and the former ones is that here we have somebody who worked hard to invite people to their room and keep them engaged. And somebody who, if successful, is officially recognized by most members as the leader of the community. Somebody who also had a specific goal in mind for this community.
The situation that interests us now is when you’re not the one who built the room. So, is it possible to create meaningful relationships here? The short answer is: Yes, if the room still resembles the specialty room we talked about before, with a thriving community, and if your goals aren’t in direct conflict with the creators’ ones. The same process can still apply.
But what if your goals are conflicting with the creators’? Well, depending on the situation, you could either find other rooms… or you could try to hijack it. But that is another story and shall be told another time.
And before we finish, we’ll quickly mention two special cases of branded hashtags/rooms: the event hashtag, and the Twitter chat. For different reasons, these two cases are very relevant, and we’ll talk about these in the lesson about the hashtags lifecycles.
Congratulations ! You have finished the introductory part of our Advanced Marketing course. We’re still writing the next lessons, which will be more practical how-tos about various common tasks for social media marketers.
But you don’t need to wait if you want to apply the concepts we explained. You can start from our Labs, which include guided tours and detailed guides to, among other things: