Of Brands, re-tweets and trending hashtags on Twitter

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Nokia’s cheeky taunt of Apple, during the announcement of the iPhone 5C became a big hit. In fact, it is the most retweeted ‘brand tweets‘ ever, beating the Oreo ‘dunk in the dark‘ one.

So what exactly did Nokia gain from that tweet, aside from the joy of seeing so many RTs? Well, firstly it gave ammunition for those consumers who are not fans of Apple – they dislike Apple and its products for several reasons. So, socking it to Apple through a perky tweet gives those fans a high. And then there are those who simply enjoyed a good, timely, tactical use of social media from a brand and chose to share it with friends. I am sure it also must have made Nokia fans happy as it is an endorsement of their brand choice; some Nokia loyalists may belong to the first group of Apple-haters I mentioned above, so they too gain something from this tweet. From a brand perspective it imbues Nokia (to an extent) with an image of a pioneer and in a twisted sort of way, an underdog too – in the context of Apple taking all the limelight in online media while Nokia should have been the real ‘hero’ since they brought coloured phones before Apple did.

Don’t get me wrong – I am all for brands using social media well, especially in the context of a real time event. We should have more of such. And I thought the Nokia tweet was very creative and seized an opportunity well. What I am questioning (or rather thinking aloud) is the ultimate value of such an activity from a business and marketing perspective.

In this context, an even more disturbing trend among brands (and social media agencies) is the obsession to trend on Twitter. A national trend or a global trend is a big high nowadays for a brand. But a trend cannot be an obsession for a brand – it cannot be the end objective. If as a result of a smart, engaging tactic, a brand hashtag happens to trend, it is fine. But it being obsessed with it is unhealthy and may not be beneficial to the brand.

The common ways in which a hashtag can trend is pretty simple to emulate (and most brand do):

– appeal to a fans of a popular genre: films and sports (rather, cricket) fit the bill. So no wonder you will find movie releases trending on a Friday or fans drumming up support for inane hashtags and  making it trend. The sheer numbers of fans of such genres helps.

– resort to tried and tested hashtags like ‘#replacemovietitleswith…’: this is the easy way out where a large number of (inane) tweets are guaranteed since it is pretty easy to participate with tweets in this hashtag.

– contests: no prizes for guessing the ‘effectiveness’ of this route

But what is missing in the context of brands & hashtags is the relevance to the brand. In my view, if a brand resorts to using hashtags, the following criteria is a must:

it must be uniquely associated with the brand: there are umpteen examples of hashtags from brands which get hijacked by brands from unrelated categories. So a hashtag with the brand name or a property which is unique to that brand is important and must be part of the hashtag

allowing for creativity: the gratification of contributing to trending tweets (e.g #moviesequelsnevermade) is to showcase your creativity and having it enjoyed, commented and shared by others, especially by the Twitterati. So the hashtag must have that tiny ‘fill in the blanks’ kind of tease that triggers creative tweets

surround effect through advertising is a bonus: if an ad campaign running on mass media can trigger participation through the hashtag (the theme being the same, of course) it is a big bonus.

Coming back to tactical, real time tweets like the one Nokia created  – should Nokia have let go off the opportunity to take a dig at Apple? Definitely not. It was cheeky, timely and designed to get worldwide attention for free. It is also likely to strengthen Nokia’s equity among its loyalists. So there are big plus points in this approach. But chances are such a tweet is unlikely to make any difference to the fortunes of iPhone 5C. That is the reality. So while there are intangible brand benefits to such an activity, brands should be realistic about its ground impact. Brands should not get over excited about such social media ‘success’. Ditto with trending hashtags.

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