Thriving in a hashtag economy

Kudos to photographer Matt Mason for providing these photos. Click to see the gallery

A question about using social media arose this morning — one that I only had time to half-answer. I was on a panel at a Milwaukee Social Media Breakfast (#SMBmke). The question (to paraphrase): “I don’t sell a sexy product. I’m a business that sells to other businesses something that they need. But they don’t necessarily blog about it or tweet about it. Can social media support my goal of lead generation?” I said yes. Below is the second half of my answer.

I did mention The Long Tail. Click through that link to learn what that is. And if you do, think about that link. Jeff Jarvis coined the phrase link economy. Chris Anderson coined the phrase the long tail. I propose a new coinage: the hashtag economy.

The long tail is the book, and the concept, about how niche markets find what they need in a world this isn’t hindered by the economics of brick-and-mortar. There are no carrying costs associated with iTunes offering one more song that just happens to be obscure. Their inventory is limited only by digital storage costs and the bandwidth necessary to deliver the song when someone buys it.

The link economy uses this free, or nearly free, paradigm. It cost me nothing to create the link that pointed readers to an explanation of The Long Tail. The link led to Wikipedia. There again, the power of almost-free. This crowd-sourced encyclopedia saw the most minuscule of incremental costs to provide you with that definition.

The upshot is this. Since we are rewarded nearly every time we click on a link, we do it more often. That generates something that very often can be monetized: Significant volumes of traffic.

Smart businesses — such as the publishers of Wired Magazine and Anderson’s book — leverage this link economy to sell more books. And they leverage The Long Tail Phenomenon in the very sale of a book about the long tail; Anderson’s book might never have become a best-seller if it hadn’t been offered in a virtual bookstore like Amazon first. His readers might have simply been just too darned “niche” to persuade bricks-and-mortar book stores to stock it in their shelves.

Scott Baitinger, co-owner of Streetza Pizza, and I were talking about niche marketing earlier this week. I complimented him on his use of Twitter Hashtags to find a narrow group and to market to them. That narrow group is @FitMKE. Scott has been peddling his pizzas to this group by tweeting to them with the #FitMKE hashtag.

Analog broadcast channels (those based on radio / television wave frequencies) are valuable enough that they are regulated by the government. There are rules about what businesses must do to earn their right to be there (e.g., public service announcements and public-oriented programming). Things that are scarce have value, and these channels are no exception. A recent auction of analog broadcast channels garnered bids in the many millions of dollars.

Twitter handles are not limited by the spectrum of a radio or television broadcast frequency. If I auctioned off my Twitter handle, I would get zero bids. Why? Everyone who knows anything about Twitter knows you can create accounts limited only by the nearly infinite combinations of letters and numbers.

This makes Twitter a spectrum of a nearly infinite number of nearly-free channels. It draws lots of people because it is so cheap and teeming with variety. It uses both the long tail and the link economy.

Increasingly, Twitter is also spawning communities of likeminded people around hashtags. One example of #SMBmke. Another, ironically, is #MKElikemind (another breakfast group — here’s the info on my blog). Scott, and @StreetzPizza, found #fitMKE to be a channel to narrow-cast his offer of healthy pizzas (and also indulgent pizzas, since — hey — you have to be getting fit to enjoy life, don’t you?).

The Hashtag Economy is one way smart marketers are finding their niche audience within the cacauphony of other channels. They’re tuning in, conversing, and doing business there.

Here’s a challenge, especially for my friends (old and new) who attended this morning’s breakfast: What hashtag conversations have you been a part of? And how have they improved your life and work? More important: What business relationships have formed from them?

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Photo credit: Matt Mason, photographer

9 thoughts on “Thriving in a hashtag economy”

  1. Hey Jeff,

    Great article. This topic makes me think about the increasing desire for the small group in the midst of the large group. It reminds me the mega church dilemma. Churches got so large they realized they needed a way for people to connect more on a one to one basis. The result was “small groups.”

    The “hashtag economy” shows our desire as human’s to connect with like minded topics. A recent, if not first, I followed on my TweetDeck was #21daysNLCC. I decided to participate in a 21 day fast called a Daniel Fast and noticed my good friends in Chicago had stated this hashtag. It allowed for some commiserating and encouragement to stay the course for the three weeks.

    For business I haven’t yet used it but I am also curious to see what others are doing.

    My favorite quote from you today was, “Things don’t exist until we describe them.”

    Thanks again for sharing!!!

    Matt

  2. When we produced our Social Media University Milwaukee event last summer, we created the #SMUM hashtag.

    During the event, we projected a live tweet-stream with the hashtag, and were amazed at the chatter the event was generating inside and outside the building.

    But leading up to the event, it helped us disseminate valuable information about the event…not the least important being that we were intentionally NOT serving lunch as part of the program. Local “twitter-savvy” restaurant owners took the hint and used the hashtag to tweet lunch specials for SMU-M attendees. 240 of the 400 in attendance patronized a restaurant that tweeted a lunch special.

    Not quite a life changer, but a real world example of creative use of Social media.

  3. Thanks, Matt. And yes, I can get a little metaphysical when talking about digital marketing. :-)

    Tom, that’s an excellent example. I also am impressed that you somehow surveyed those 400 attendees to see that 60% dined nearby.

    I suspect that savvy restaurants around last night’s Acrobash event. Here’s what two restaurants tweeted:

    “It’s #ACROBASH – stop by @water_buffalo or @swigmilwaukee before or after for a free glass of wine with any entree with this tweet”

  4. We actually did a lengthy post-event survey about almost every aspect of SMUM. Goes back to my days in radio when we researched EVERYTHING. But those results are really helping us make sure we knock SMUM2 out of the park. :)

  5. That shouldn’t surprise me about you, Tom. Well done.

    And thanks yesterday for being willing to “grab an instrument and joining our combo,” in Sue Spaight’s absence.

  6. You know, when we started the #fitmke hashtag we thought it was just a good way to connect with and encourage people around town who had similar goals and interests. I didn’t realize at the time the other ways it could be used. Interesting!

  7. Thanks, Tracey.

    Yeah, I’m sure the last thing on your mind was creating a virtual community. But it turns out others (like Joe from Streetza Pizza) who understand the “hashtag economy” can use your ad hoc group to introduce a brand and many even make a buck. Interesting indeed!

    Good luck, by the way. I too have to crack the whip and get back into a fitness regimen. I used to be a loyal YMCA-goer. Where did that self-discipline disappear to? LOL

  8. What is cool is that we really didn’t set out to market to a hashtag community, we just wanted to be a part of it. Sampling pizza all summer resulted in adding about 25lbs to my waistline. I want to lose that 25 lbs though #fitmke activities and weigh-ins. The #fitmke community is an inspirational and supportive one.

    We figured out a way to make a lo-cal healthy pizza and offer it to both the community and the community at large. It will certainly help with my new diet as well.

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