Ah yes, the humble hashtag. Throw a number sign (#) in front of a word or phrase on the right social network and suddenly the world is your audience. Hashtags turn plain language into a link and connect you with everyone else using it and watching the resulting conversation. They help aggregate, organize, discover and promote content in new and exciting ways. These tags are most familiar to seasoned Twitter users but other networks like LinkedIn and Google+ recognize them and even Facebook started integrating them recently too. This week I take a closer look at how television, film and other screen media are leveraging these tags and how you can harness this power for your own production.
Most simply, hashtags give your language superpowers. Using #hashtags means you are more easily found in searches on social networks and can reach wider audiences than those who simply “follow” or “like” you. Here are 5 specific reasons and examples of how screen media should and have used these tags as part of a digital marketing strategy:
Reason #1: Social Television, Film & Web Series Conversations
Social TV is a trend and strategy that is all the rage right now. It involves engaging viewers of a particular television program in a conversation on social media, especially synchronous to broadcast. The thing that powers this conversation is the hashtag, whether it is straight up conversations on Twitter or in a social TV app. Television shows will often try to control the conversation by having an official hashtag which will be featured as an onscreen “bug” during broadcast, such as The Voice does (although fans will often create their own any way). Twitter even provides best practices for TV producers to help you get the most out of this phenomenon. Although film and web series don’t often have a schedule to tie the conversation to, I am seeing more and more of these screen media beyond TV including official hashtags (such as #hungergames or #prometheus). In reality these discussions will be happening with or without you. By creating an official hashtag you can craft exciting content for your fans and be a welcome voice in the conversation.
Reason #2: Live Event Promotion/Participation
Movie premieres, reality/talent show competitions, fundraising events, broadcast specials, and social media promotional campaigns are all examples of how hashtags can further supercharge your #social TV and film conversations beyond the everyday chatter. Recently Twitter launched special pages to showcase the hashtags for such events as NASCAR. Special promotional hashtags have included #whatsmydistrict for a contest for The Hunger Games movie and #fightthefuture for a special event for the television show Fringe. More general hashtag events include #filmfriday which happens every Friday on Twitter where people share what movies they are going to watch this weekend. Hashtags can also be used for regularly scheduled Twitter chats such as #webserieschat which happens every Wednesday at 11 AM PST and #scriptchat which happens Sundays at 8 PM EST.
Reason #3: Real-time Storytelling
Hashtags can also become part of storytelling in real-time, which can be more like live theatre or documentary reporting. #OccupyWallStreet and #ArabSpring are two of the more powerful and recent examples of the latter. Not only did participants rally around these hashtags (and create relevant variations for themselves) as the symbol for a movement, but the world tuned in to read as the stories unfolded. More light-hearted and fictional storytelling projects are also in the works, not the least of which was film director Tim Burton’s Cadavre Exquis experiment that ran in 2010 and 2011 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox where a collective story emerged, one line at a time, around the hashtag #BurtonStory.
Reason #4: #Hashtag Commentary
Once you are comfortable on Twitter you will be drawn to the hashtag for all of the above reasons, but one of its most charming uses is simply as commentary on your thoughts or others. The most common instance of this is #fail, which I have heard even in real world conversations (such as Jack Layton’s comment during a Canadian political debate). This use of the hashtag is often like a whispered comment in your ear, an aside or glimpse into another’s internal monologue. And they are often quite funny. Many have captured and archived these gems such as blogger Wild Woman of the West or this brilliant breakdown in the New Yorker.
Reason #5: Analytics!
You know at some point I need to celebrate the data that comes from language use online. Hashtags offer another way to track, measure and better understand what will work best with your audience. Luckily there are MANY tools out there that can help you harness these metrics. Here are a few:
- The Archivist helps you save and analyze tweets over time. While you can search for any term, I find the hashtag capabilities some of the strongest.
- Tweetreach can help you understand how far a single tweet or hashtag travels and who have been the most active participants in that conversation.
- Hashtracking is a tool specifically for tracking the reach of hashtags. You can get 24 hours of data for free and deeper customization and reporting is possible with paid plans.
Tracking is great, but which hashtags should you be using (if you aren’t creating your own for specific purposes). Luckily there are tools for this too. To begin you can start plugging words and phrases from your other keyword research into tools such as these:
- Hashtags.org contains a large database of tags, some of which are broken down into different categories which can be quite helpful.
- TagDef.com provides user generated definitions of tags and helps you understand what some of the more mysterious definitions mean (like #FF meaning “Follow Friday” where people make suggestions about other Twitter feeds worth following).
- Trendsmap which shows real-time Twitter/hashtag trends by specific geographic cities and countries.
- Favstar.fm which shows the most popular frequently retweeted posts and hashtags.
Also it might be helpful to know some of the most common/best hashtags about film, television, webseries and all manner of screen media and storytelling:
#actor, #canadianTV, #cdnfilm, #connectedTV, #crowdfunding, #digital_media, #director, #documentaries, #fiction, #film, #filmmaker, #filmmaking, #indiefilm, #indiemm, #infdist, #lowbudget, #moviemaking, #movies, #preproduction, #producer, #screenplay, #screenwriting, #script, #shorts, #socialTV, #storytelling, #trailer, #transmedia, #webseries, #writer
How to Hashtag?
Hopefully all of the above has inspired you to tweet and tag with confidence, but you should know some basic hashtag etiquette going in:
- Do your homework – make sure you are tweeting the right tags for your project.
- Keep it highly relevant – the hashtag should be the anchor for your tweet, don’t be wasting people’s time and spam conversations that have nothing to do with the tag (this will definitely backlash on you and your project quickly).
- Don’t overdo it – a single tweet should not include more than two hashtags.
What Do You Think?
Do you have a hashtag success story? Even a tale of #fail can help yourself and others. Please share. I’d love to hear what you have learned about social media and film, TV, webseries or any screen media or storytelling project. Send your thoughts, ideas, questions below or send them to me at annelise (at) veria.ca or on Twitter @veriatweet.
Or revisit the previous issue: Yorkton Film Festival: The Digital Future of Film in 4 Conversations