The Hashtag Machine: Past, Present, and Future

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Congratulations. You’ve just finished a killer social media campaign. Your director of marketing is patting you on the back, his firm black hair brushing gently against his well manicured hands as he breaths of sigh of relief. The CMO will be happy with the performance of his department. There was tons of interaction on social and customers took notice. But how did the campaign do — really? The campaign had a clever hashtag, minor C-list celebrity endorsement but whose job was it to track social interaction again? Hopefully it wasn’t yours, because you once again forgot something.

You Forgot to Track the Damn Hashtag

While you can now get historical hashtag data (essentially saving your ass), it isn’t the ideal situation for figuring into the overall current ROI calculations. There are a couple situations where historical tracking figures heavily into your campaign tracking, we’ll get to those in a minute. This next minute is going to be spent talking about some of your options when it comes to “oh the things you can do” with hashtags. They aren’t just a creative option to connect social media posts, they are a hidden marketing and analysis tool — hiding in plain sight.

Up to this point, and while this entire business is run off of the marketing science surrounding hashtags, we generally take hashtags for granted. While brands are still getting the hang of hashtags, they tend to change them often (as much as with every tweet) and really only get away with that because they don’t have to care. When you have a billion freaking followers (I’m embellishing) then it doesn’t matter what hashtag you use, people are going to see it and you don’t even give a shit about tracking it. But when you are hoping for outreach in the tens of thousands (a normal marketing campaign goal for most brands and agencies) then hashtag tracking and consistency becomes something of an important factor.

The trick is that it is not just your hashtag you need to track, but any hashtag that might make a difference. For instance, anything from your competitors hashtags surrounding a similar campaign to common misspellings of your hashtags. Taking as many variables into account when it comes to the human condition is integral to deriving the most accurate ROI from your social campaigns. Being able to track and consolidate as much historical and real-time hashtag data is a huge part of that. From that, and being able to pick out major influencers (the empty vessel of a celebrity for instance; big reach, low impact) from your campaign hashtag is a primary concern for analytics down the road. Not to mention the competitive analysis with the aforementioned competitors, who most likely didn’t take all variables into account.

So let’s talk a bit about historical tracking, now that that is an option. There are four major variables to think about when it comes to historical tracking to make it worthwhile. The thing about history is that it cannot be changed. What it can be used for though, is determining the future.

Historical Hashtracking

  • Performance of repeat hashtags — many brands use the same hashtags over and over and over, year after year, quarter after quarter. While there are date cutoffs, it is handy to see how that hashtag performed the first time around. Mostly this would be used to test effectiveness and reach of a hashtag. Looking back to get a clear picture of a campaign that wasn’t tracked on social is a good indicator of how to craft future campaigns centered around a similar theme.
  • Comparative analysis to older, competing hashtags — nothing compares to sneaking a peek into the window of your competitor across the street. While you can’t get sales numbers from hashtags, you can get some good indicators as to the success of a certain campaign. Plus, you can easily see who their greatest influencers are and for the lack of a better term — steal them. Or at least find someone to directly compete for that audience. Either way, the tools are there to see how the shop across the street performed in the past and whether or not you want to go down the same path.
  • Uniqueness of your hashtag — chances are you have chosen a hashtag for your campaign that makes sense. This hashtag is catchy, short and says what needs to be said in one word with the number sign in front of it. However, chances are just as good it has been used before. Checking the history of a hashtag before you put it into play might reveal some skeletons in the closet you don’t want to let out of there. If there is prior negative connotation with a hashtag, just remember, the internet never forgets.
  • Volume of hashtag use before you started using it — related to finding out if you are using a unique hashtag is finding out if it had previous volume that would dilute your campaign. It is not just diluting the numbers (as that can be cut off with a date range), it is diluting the effectiveness. If the hashtag is still active, or related to something else that had strong reach, you might not want to add in any level of confusion with your current campaign.

This is your wake up call

Millions of tweets zip by every second, Facebook walls are getting taller than the one that Pink Floyd sang about (if you millennials don’t get that reference, ask your parents) and we need all the tools we can get to keep up. That is where tracking hashtags enters as such an easy and viable solution to add to the ROI calculations. Not only can you easily track your campaign, but you can measure success against others and see who on your campaign (as far as influencers) are bringing in the volume. You can tailor campaigns to be more successful based on these points. The point is, don’t sit on your social media campaign with a smug smile of success without taking into account every variable that could, should and would be tracked. If I know those variables exist, someone who makes sure a paycheck gets into your hand does too. Happy tracking!

Join the Hashtracking team on twitter Wednesday, April 30th at 7pm PT/10pm ET for a #HashChat on historical tracking. Don’t worry we’ve got the transcript covered.¬†

Image: Ute Kraus, Institute of Physics, Universität Hildesheim, Space Time Travel

About Ciaran Blumenfeld

Ciaran Blumenfeld is a serial entrepreneur with a pedigree in marketing & advertising. She's one of the original co-founders of Hashtracking. She enjoys a strong, engaged personal social media presence with footholds in the parenting, lifestyle and travel markets. As a marketer Ciaran can be found overseeing multi-platform digital campaigns from strategy to execution. This is when her geek side shows.

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