With big brands, entertainment companies and everyone else frantically trying to figure what really works on Twitter, we're in a stage of hashtag experimentation right now.
I wrote recently about Sports Illustrated putting #SILinsanity on its cover story about NBA shooting star Jeremy Lin. A student of mine said that someone complained that using hashtags on the cover meant the magazine was "taking advantage" of a public phenomenon. In today's world, that's like complaining that the New York Times is "taking advantage" of the 2012 elections by covering the heck out of them.
It is smart for news organizations to cover subjects people are talking about - without, of course, chasing after every ridiculous Twitter trending topic.
On Sunday, we saw television networks try to use hashtags around two annual one-of-a-kind events. One of them succeeded; the other did not. We're learning that creating and promoting a hashtag is just the beginning. What may matter more is when and where you use it.
Fox Sports scores with #Daytona500:
Through almost the entire rain-delayed Sunday telecast of the Daytona 500 race, Fox kept the #Daytona500 hashtag on the upper right portion of the screen (see photo above). It added the fun #RainDelay hashtag, too, at various points. If viewers are going to be talking about you anyway, why not have some fun while you're at it, and use the "digital fence" the hashtag provides to later track the conversation.
In other words, by using a hashtag like that one, you encourage viewers to tweet with and at your brand, making for easy tracking. Also, others on Twitter who aren't watching your show might become aware of it and tune in.
ABC's golden #Oscars fumble:
ABC, on the other hand, fumbled a golden chance with the #Oscars hashtag (see photo below). Not only did they barely run the words Oscars.com and #Oscars on the screen, but they pretty much only flashed them when cutting to commercial.
With a four-hour show, that's exactly when people are rushing to the bathroom, raiding their refrigerators, etc. As for those still watching, the hashtag was run under the shots of big-name celebrities, women and men whose star power distracted from anything else on the screen.