From a fundamental marketing perspective, hashtags and mobile barcodes serve very much the same purpose, meaning they are both tools (tactics) by which an advertiser can use to engage and interact with a target audience. Additionally, they both enable consumers in the target audience a means by which to share the brand, product, service and/or user experience socially with others. While some might believe the similarities end here, I don't believe they do and here's why. Just as with mobile barcodes, there are a number of nuances or obstacles, call them what you may, with hashtags that need to be addressed in order for them to be a truly effective marketing tool. Some of these nuances/obstacles include the following:
- Consumer Adoption. The majority of the American public are not registered users of Twitter so, by default, they probably have little or no idea of what hashtags are, how they are used and what they represent. Even of the registered and active users of Twitter, not everyone is familiar with hashtags. Question: How or why make use of a marketing tactic that only speaks to a select few?
- Education. Of the hashtags that I have seen in advertisements, promotions, etc., none have been displayed with educational copy to help consumers learn about hashtag "technology" and how to make use of it. Question: If a large portion of the consuming public has limited or no knowledge of Twitter hashtags then is it the responsibility of the advertiser to educate potential users?
- App Use. In order to interact with a Twitter hashtag, a consumer needs to first download an app to his/her mobile phone and then launch the app to reply to the hashtag. Question: Is it up to the advertiser to suggest which app to download and how to interact with the hashtag?
- Connectivity. Many of the hashtags that I have seen have been displayed on out-of-home billboards which are located in areas with no Internet connectivity (e.g., subway). Question: Does it make sense for advertisers to assume that consumers are going to remember the hashtag, so that the hashtag can be accessed or interacted with at a later point in time (e.g., once out of the subway)?
- Call-to-action. A fundamental aspect of advertising and promotion is the call-to-action but, with the vast majority of the hashtags that I have seen, not one has had a call-to-action or descriptive copy informing the consumer what the hashtag represents. Question: Would hashtags be more effective with a call-to-action? Is a call-to-action even necessary?
- Expectations. As with other forms of interactive advertising and/or media, consumers expect certain results to happen. Question: With no call-to-action, no descriptive copy, etc., how does an advertiser plan to manage consumer expectations involving a hashtag?
- Post-interaction. After a consumer Tweets to the hashtag, what happens then? Question: How does the advertiser respond to consumers taking the time and making the effort to spark or share a conversation about their brand, product or service via the hashtag? Should there be any reward for replying to the hashtag?
- Metrics. As with most other forms of advertising and promotion, ROI is being scrutinized. Question: How does the advertiser monitor, measure and assess hashtag ROI and plan for next steps? Does it make sense to test hashtag copy?
While the use of hashtags may make perfect sense from one brand, industry, audience and/or objective to another, in the long run, I do not believe they will fair any better or much differently than mobile barcodes, as a marketing tool or tactic, primarily for the reasons cited above. By this, please do not misinterpret what I am trying to say. Just as with mobile barcodes, there is certainly a time and place for hashtags, just as long as they are correctly formulated, implemented and monitored.
Please share any insights that you may have on hashtag marketing.