Having a conversation with your fans on Twitter isn’t like holding a focus group in a conference room. It’s more like trying to get a stranger’s attention in a crowded, smoky bar. In all the activity, it’s easy to get ignored, or even worse, be misunderstood.
The Twitter equivalent of a sustained conversation is the hashtag — the # symbol followed up by the topic of your choice. You can create a hashtag for anything, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have the conversation you’re hoping for. Your tag can be appropriated for all sorts of unintended uses or it might just get lost in the shuffle. SmartBrief on Social Media has a hashtag — #sbosm — with both problems.
When we launched SmartBrief on Social Media last year, we wanted a way to feature content from our readers, as a way of building engagement. Republishing the most interesting tweets seemed like a natural fit. They’re short, they often include great links to social media stories and they provide a little self-promotional boost for the submitter, since we publish their Twitter handle right alongside the tweet. And so, The Big Re-Tweet section — located towards the bottom of our daily social media e-newsletter — was born.
At the top of this section we started running a little prompt: “Simply add the #sbosm hashtag to the end of your tweet and we’ll consider your finds for this newsletter.” We also promoted it using our @sbosm Twitter account. And the responses starting rolling in. We’ve gotten some great links we may have never have noticed otherwise. We’re also pleased to have gotten to know some SmartBrief on Social Media fans who are unbelievably plugged in, such as @oth11, @jaysonAG, @senseijack, @dkasrel, @thewebchef, @Brandon101, just to name a few. But then again, some of the sbosm hashed tweets haven’t been quite what we expected.
The Problem of Awareness
The Big Retweet mention in the e-newsletter is nice, but since you can’t instantly respond to it, it loses some effectiveness. The regular Twitter touts usually bring in a little interest, but since Twitter moves so quickly, if you’re not looking when we post, chances are you’ll miss the message. The way most people discover hashtags is from seeing a friend post with that tag. We get many submissions from these indirect discovers too, but they don’t always know what SmartBrief is or what the #sbosm tag is about, which can lead to some rather unusual tweets.
The Problem of Identity
Once a hashtag is out there in the world, users are the ones deciding what it means. Oftentimes our #sbosm hash is attached to interesting articles that relate indirectly to social media in ways we hadn’t considered. Or it can lead to a bit of original insight or even a memorable quote about social media.
But, as all of us experimenting in social media know by now, giving up control can have negative effects, too. We get a lot of spam on that hashtag. We get a lot of tweets from self-promoters, some of whom aren’t even writing about social media trends. We get tweets from well-meaning fans who think we want them retweet items from our blog. It can be difficult to navigate the feed, since its so choked with unrelated content. After all that, sometimes we end up not having a suitable item for the Big Re-Tweet at all.
The Problem of Control
The #sbosm conversation is out there. You can go look at it now on Twitter search. We can’t control it or edit it in any way. As editor, all I can do is try to influence it a little. And since I’m just one person, I thought I’d turn to you guys, the people who make Twitter what it is, for a little advice. How can we turn the #sbosm tag into something that provides a resource for our readers and enables you all to connect with us in a more meaningful way? Should we change the way we promote the Big Re-Tweet? Should try starting over with a new tag? Should we look for other ways to engage our audience? What do you think?
Image credit, ayzek via iStock