Modern marketers are very creative when it comes to extending the reach of their communications. They unscrupulously hijack hundreds of hashtags a day in an attempt to attract the attention of potential customers. A crime report.
A guest article by Tim Frohwein, sociologist and science blogger at the Fresenius University of Applied Sciences in Munich.
Who was the murderer? Some 13 million Germans ask themselves this question every Sunday evening during their beloved crime series, “Tatort.” With a market share averaging 35 percent, the program has been one of the most successful German television series over the last 45 years. A triumphal march that, in recent years, has progressed steadily into the world of the social web. In fact, according to
Topsy.com, there were around 30,000 tweets with the hashtag “Tatort” ( #tatort) in May 2015 alone. It’s an impressive reach – one that national firms and branded goods companies in particular are using to their advantage. How? It’s pretty simple: brands of all kinds pick up on the storyline of the current episode of Tatort and refer to it in their posts. Their goal is to promote their own brand and get social signals from second-screen viewers. However, the contents of the tweets often have little or nothing to do with the actual Tatort plot. The technical term for this is “hashtag hijacking,” and the practice is becoming an increasingly popular marketing technique.
Hashtag hijacking – an ideal opportunity for real-time marketing“Hashtag hijacking” is establishing itself more and more as a standard method of online corporate communication. There are also plenty of examples internationally that show how companies can benefit from the attention given to popular hashtags on Twitter, Facebook, and similar platforms. Major events like the Super Bowl or the recent solar eclipse are hotly debated on social media platforms using their respective hashtags (
#sb49, #sofi) and provide marketers with the opportunity for real-time marketing. PR departments from large and small companies had a real hashtag hijacking battle at the beginning of 2015, when almost everyone on the Internet was talking about a photo of a dress and whether it was blue and black or actually white and gold. Well-known companies, including heavyweights like Audi, Sixt or Ritter Sport, were quick to tweet using “ TheDress” and “ dressgate” – the hashtags that were being used for the debate.
Reading about the hashtag gives you a significant advantageHowever, marketers would be advised to look very closely at the story behind a certain hashtag before using it themselves, as demonstrated by the case of “
DiGiorno Pizza.” In September 2014, the US frozen pizza manufacturer, which regularly attracts attention with its creative use of hashtag hijacking, posted the following tweet with “ #WhyIStayed” – at the time a trending hashtag:
The problem was that the hashtag was actually being used in a serious and emotional debate where women suffering from domestic violence were talking about why they were unable to leave their abusive partners. Just a few minutes later, those responsible for social media at DiGiorno Pizza deleted the tweet and ruefully admitted: “A million apologies. Did not read what the hashtag was about before posting.” This case has since served as a warning that it takes a lot more than a glance at what’s trending on Twitter and a creative idea to be successful at hashtag hijacking.
From hashtags to influential profilesUsed in the right way, this online marketing technique does, however, achieve an important goal: companies profit from the attention given to topics of discussion that have nothing to do with their business, and can use it to reach people who aren’t a part of their own fan base. Similarly effective, though not as popular, is social media hijacking of a different kind: “profile hijacking.” This, of course, doesn’t refer to hijacking profiles in a deceitful sense; instead, it means engaging the people who run popular social media profiles to spread your brand content via their site. As with hashtag hijacking, marketers are using this technique to increase the reach of their own content. And even more importantly: in contrast to hashtag hijacking, your message – and above all its credibility – is boosted by the reputation of the organization behind the profile.
If a brand communicates primarily through its owned media channels, most of the people who see the content already have a connection to the company as fans or loyal readers. Other people, on the other hand, miss the communication altogether. These users either don’t realize that a communication has been sent out, or think that the message doesn’t concern them. The solution? You place a “loudspeaker” between the sender and new potential recipients. With “profile hijacking” of this kind, the loudspeaker is provided by another organization’s social media profile.
Profile hijacking in practiceHere’s a real life example from my work: In the editorial department of the
adhibeo science blog, looking for a suitable loudspeaker to amplify our own messages is a part of our daily work. Our blog publishes articles covering research carried out by the Fresenius University of Applied Sciences. These articles present the results of scientific studies in simple language that everyone can understand. But how can we see to it that these texts are read by people who aren’t associated with the university?
Using profile hijacking as described above, we have been pretty successful in increasing our exposure. For example, a few weeks ago, the German Alzheimer’s Association (Deutsche Alzheimer Gesellschaft) shared an adhibeo article on its Facebook fan page in which one of our university professors was commenting on the widespread disease. The result was numerous social signals and a significant rise in the number of people reading the article.
In August 2014, we also won the support of gamer Fabian Siegismund in increasing our reach and credibility. He shared an interview on his Facebook fan page in which a professor from the
Fresenius University of Applied Sciences – contrary to general opinion – talked about the positive sides of gaming and emphasized the learning benefits of computer games.
Thanks to Siegismund’s actions, the adhibeo article was read by more than 3,000 Internet users within two days – an amazing figure considering that at the time, our articles were read by just 500 people on average.
So the hijacking methods discussed above don’t just apply to popular and commonly known hashtags. They are also perfect for communicating with small sections of the public. You don’t agree? Then why not hijack my hashtag, #TimFrohwein, or the hashtag for our science blog, #adhibeo? I look forward to a lively debate.
Text: Tim Frohwein
Illustration: Belinda Foerner, grasundsterne
Translation: Toby Skingsley