Why #Hashtags Matter

Posted on 01. Sep, 2011 by in race

Throughout the USA Pro Cycling Challenge last week, the #hashtag confusion, along with the non-descript official event name, led to the creation of silly names to identify the race on twitter. Though meant to be harmless fun, it highlighted an underlying event identity issue which needs to be clear and easily recognizable. A muddled social media identity impacts the  reach of an event which is essential in the discussion with current and potential sponsors. And we’re not going to get into the mistakes on the race website, already discussed by others.

Stage 6 - Golden twitter was also confused about hashtag

Stage 6 - Golden twitter was also confused about hashtag

The point of this post is not to take away from the great race and its amazing crowd turnout but to use it as a starting point in our discussion of the importance of hashtags and a broader view of social media for races.

Be clear and precise. Twitter hashtags serve many purposes. First and foremost, it is to simply tag – or link – a tweet to an event making part of the event’s online identity. Some thought should be taken in choosing a hashtag – without being too long, the hashtag should represent the event and whenever possible not use another event’s name.

Switching the hashtag on the day of the race from one (#USAPro) that was  advertised on the official facebook page led to confusion. Unfortunately the choice of #USPro conflicted with the USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial National Championships, known as USPro and who have been using that hashtag for a few years.

To make matters worst, other hashtags were used, such as #USAPro by a journalist (@fcbrian) at the official media partner Velonews, @BicyclingMag and @podium_live, #USPCC by @CyclingCentral and #USAPCC by @Ride_Argyle, @TeamType1 and another journalist (@Steve_Froth) at Velonews.

Why does it matter you say? Well, first it’s important to fans. Many fans will search & follow a race via one hashtag, an impossibility in this case. Then, one clear and precise hashtag allows the possibility of the event to trend on twitter which would be a big coup. Lastly, one hashtag allows a way to measure reach and marketing effectiveness, essential in discussion with sponsors.

Of course, hashtags are only one simple part of the overall social media equation. Simply put, social media should be an integral part of the PR for a race, not an adjunct. First and foremost a presence on the major social media outlets is important, both facebook and twitter – and an understanding on how these work (for example the @reply mechanism on twitter).

So  understand your audience, probably international and establish your social media presence. Keep it consistent, follow your plan (you have one right?), remember your goals and get out there.

Then engage and engage again. The whole point of social media is to have an interaction with your audience in a meaningful way. And that leads to having a plan to address issues. Many use twitter and/or facebook as entry points to leave feedback, both negative and positive. They do not care, and nor should they, where the issue comes from, they just want someone to genuinely pay attention to them. For example, many comments about the video feed issues in the Shack Tour Tracker was left on the USA Pro Cycling Challenge facebook page, but as far as I can tell, did not receive a response or an acknowledgment.

Other pro sports, like the NHL and NFL are not only embracing social media but are actually changing to embrace it. Professional cycling needs to do the same to engage an international audience.

Looking to add social media to your race and/or team? Confused on how to do it? Want to tweet your race live and not sure how to do it? Give us a call, we’re available.

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