At the start of President Obama’s second term in early 2013, the White House promoted the use of the hashtag #SOTU to reference and comment on President Obama’s State of the Union address. Twitter’s @Gov account, a page that “provides updates…tracking creative & effective uses of Twitter for civic engagement…” later released the following data: during the president’s address, #SOTU was tweeted 766,681 times.
The frequency of these tweets fluctuated. As expected, the number of tweets spiked when the President touched upon a controversial topic. What is more interesting than the actual number of tweets is the data that provided a breakdown of the most popular hashtags tweeted by region and at what point during the speech the hashtags were used most. For instance, when Obama mentioned America’s graduation rate, the engagement of the #education tag shot up, particularly in the states of Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Many tweets were recorded from #budget, #energy, #jobs, and #healthcare. These results show a definitive relationship between the concerns of people from different states and the political topics addressed by The President.
The Washington Post reported that the US government reviewed #SOTU to study the thoughts of The American People with regards to the proposed extension of payroll tax cuts. Assuming an average annual salary of $50,000 per household, it was estimated that a failure of Congress to extend the cuts in payroll taxes would result in a reduction of $40 for every paycheck. The White House launched #40dollars that asked, “What does $40 per paycheck mean for you and your family”? CNN reported that within 45 minutes of its post, #40dollars was trending worldwide at approximately 6,000 tweets per hour. This huge influx of tweets over the short time period demonstrated how significant this issue was to the American people. This campaign helped secure passage of the payroll tax extension after generating more than 70,000 tweets and in excess of 10,000 Facebook posts.
When a hashtag is “trending” it means that it is, at the moment, one of the most popular hashtags being used. A list of the trending hashtags is visible on the sidebar of the Twitter home page, and is constantly updated to display what is trending at that exact moment. While it is true that the list only monitors hashtags used on Twitter itself, it is fair to speculate that the trending topic on Twitter is also being tossed about on other social media platforms. Some tags trend for less than a minute. A quick response to a trending topic on Twitter can allow a user to reach a massive audience with little effort and no advertising fees.
Support for this idea can be evidenced from a report on wired.com that confirmed that when the lights went out in New Orleans during the third quarter Super Bowl XLVII, Oreo immediately tweeted an ad using #blackout, a hashtag sure to attract the attention of the thousands of other Twitter users using the same tag. In an interview following the successful advertising campaign, the sandwich cookie’s social media team bragged that they had fifteen staffers, (copywriters, strategists, and graphic artists) each with a finger on the send button, waiting to capitalize on anomaly that may occur during the Championship game – a great play, a wardrobe malfunction, or, in this case, a blackout. The cost of such an operation may seem excessive, but it is peanuts compared to what Budweiser or Lays was shelling out to run a short advertisement on Game Day, especially when taking into account what some clever employee of Nabisco found, taking advantage of a pregame survey: approximately 36% of Super Bowl viewers planned to consult a second screen during the game.
In general, statistics have shown that hashtags drive engagement. On average, tweets with hashtags show 12% more engagement through retweets, favorites, and responses than those without. Tweets with both a hashtag and a link have demonstrated to have the highest engagement.
Because a marketer can come up with a particular hashtag as a brand name identifier, it is possible to run cross-platform campaigns by use of hashtags, truly making the hashtag “the global connector of the social web.” If a seller is going to use a particular hashtag for their product, it is essential that the tag be easy to spell, input and remember. In order to promote its further use, the tag must be consistent with its message.
Another marketing strategy that utilizes hashtags would be one that targets a specific audience. “People want to connect with people who have common lifestyles,” suggests the blog titled Wishpond. “To market to your people, think about your demographics’ lifestyle and hobbies. Then seek out well used hashtags to include in a few of your updates. [For example], Discount Tackle Online [a company that sells fishing gear] uses common hashtags like #trout and #flyfishing on Google+. The post shows up in both hashtags streams, which gets their update seen by people who follow the fish related tags, or even search for them on the site.”
Time.com reports that for a 30% discount in an advertising fee, Esurance – a web-based auto insurance company – ran a 30 second ad immediately following Super Bowl XLVIII. When viewers were advised that one lucky person who tweeted the hashtag “#EsuranceSave30” within 36 hours of the Superbowl would receive a $1.5 million prize – the Twitter community exploded. Within seconds, 200,000 tweets came in using the hashtag #EsuranceSave30, and an additional 2.1 million flooded twitter over the following three days. The brilliance of this campaign, in retrospect, is obvious- while companies like Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, and Hyundai targeted viewers during the game, Esurance used their dollars not only to generate media attention, but to place the Esurance brand at the fingertips of millions of Americans. While Twitter itself has not been able to successfully drive sales, it provides a slingshot from which an internet marketer can reach millions of users and cast his product across multiple platforms, the real goal of the internet marketer.