Memes and hashtags, hashtags and memes … two of those words you see everywhere online. Like any culture, digital has its own vocabulary, set of customs and understood behaviours. What do B2B digital marketers need to know about two of the biggest, the humble hashtag, content categorization and discovery tool, and memes, tiny pieces of viral shared culture?
What’s a hashtag? It’s a word or phrase appearing on social media that starts with a number or hash sign like this: #hashtag. If you click on it on a Twitter or Instagram, other posts with that hashtag will come up. The hashtag was almost an accident, but is currently the only way to find similar content on Twitter and other platforms like Instagram and more recently Facebook. The first hashtag was used by Chris Messina (now at Google) in the early days of Twitter, spread to other socnets, then to billboards and SNL sketches, and has become a cultural touchstone of the digital era.
How do they work and why? Hashtags make Twitter usable for thematic research. By starting a word or phrase with the hash or number sign (#) it becomes clickable and searchable, all instances of the hashtag then appearing when clicked.
What exactly do hashtags do? A hashtag can create or anchor a story told through fragmented tweets and posts, at a conference session or topical Twitter chats. Different unconnected attendees cover the same keynote with different nuance, or talk about a topic, all linked by the hashtag. Hashtags can also catalogue, link coverage of different events, track engagement, or be used for a promotion or contest, even as entries. They are completely open though, so they can be hijacked or experience hashtag overlap (same hashtag, different significance), so they are not reliable archiving tools.
Why are hashtags important to B2B? Hashtags are a godsend to B2B; the more niche you are, the more a godsend. They make niche content and conversations findable – and the people who are interested in them. If you’re into metallurgy, you’re probably going to be using hashtags to tag content and events for others to find. On Twitter they are a critical tool for B2B marketers to find audiences; we at B2Bnn generated 100,000 impressions on Twitter in our first month before launching b2bnn.com (starting with zero followers) thanks in part to strategic use of hashtags – read how we did it.
How do I use them? If you’re creating a hashtag for an event or conference, try to keep it short (and tweetable) but meaningful, and research anything you are considering, rejecting anything with too much competitive volume. Publicize it. If you’re trying to promote something, hashtag words that are popular but focused; see some examples in this post.
When tweeting: General guidelines: Don’t use more than 3 per tweet/bio; a little hashtagging goes a long way when your goal is communicating. For research, run Tweetdecks full of hashtag searches is a cheap and very effective way to stay on top of your industry. There’s also little risk in hashtag hijacking in B2B unless it’s your competitors, and a lot of reward.
More reading on hashtags: Branding with #hashtags: the good, the bad and the dangerous From Buffer: the science of hashtags
What’s a meme? A meme is an idea gone viral, usually visual, passed along from person to person. An anatomy of how Sad Keanu came to be shows the random, distributed, participatory process by which something becomes a meme:
1. A photographer takes a picture of Keanu Reeves eating lunch.
2. People talk about the fact that they think Keanu Reeves looks sad in this picture.
3. They turn Sad Keanu into Flying Sad Keanu, Surfing Sad Keanu, and countless other variations. Some of which are quite funny.
4. Was Keanu actually sad? We will never know. But that random moment gave the world the Sad Keanu meme. And that is the typical meme anatomy: random, inexplicably popular, and suddenly everywhere.
Memes have been around for millennia, but used to move slowly through society and reflect the culture. Today memes spread so quickly they can accelerate and drive culture not just reflect it.
How do memes work? What do they do? A tiny fragment or moment of culture, usually visual today, captures the imagination of the public, followed by a rush to create around it and extend it. As to function …. not a lot of function in memes, but they do offer interesting insights into what is captivating the collective psyche.
Are there B2B memes? The first truly B2B meme we can think of is #mailkimp, originating from the mispronounced ad on the hugely popular Serial podcast, which has become a B2B phenomenon.
What do B2B marketers need to know about memes? Using memes in content marketing or communications is like an inside joke or a wink, so before you use it be sure your audience is going to get it. If they do though, surfing memes can be a powerful tool for communications, visibility and tribe identification. They are also useful ways to connect with and understand digital subcultures like techies and coders.
Can a meme also be a hashtag and vice versa? Yes – in fact #mailkimp is the trifecta: a #b2b hashtag meme. Got another example? Share it in the comments!
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