When #everything has a #hashtag, #nothing does.

Hashtags might be the most nuanced thing about using social media. As a result, it can be tough (especially for someone new to the concept) to understand how to use them correctly. To help you get the most out of this small but mighty tool (and help you avoid looking… well, #stupid) here’s a quick primer on what the hashtag is and how you should use it.

Hashtags are any word that has the hash mark (#) attached. For example, in the headline of this article, #everything, #hashtag and #nothing are all hashtags. Ideally, people use these tags to identify items they feel are related to an overall concept or conversation. Here are a few examples from Twitter:

Be careful using hashtags to ensure your intent is understood

Two million tragic stories of loss… and one pair of Hello Kitty slippers. Be careful using hashtags to ensure your intent is understood.

When you see a hashtag, it’s intended to give you a clue to what the item is about while also linking to other items with the same tag. When you click on a tag, it’s like doing an instant search on the social network for all of the other items with that same tag.

This behavior can be powerful and useful. When the Superbowl was in Indianapolis, many of the messages on social networks from local users contained a variation of a Superbowl-related tag. It was common to see #Superbowl, #Superbowl46, or #sb46. One of the problems, of course, is that there is no official tag list, so there are often variations of similar tags. Additionally, on social networks with a limited number of characters (Twitter limits you to 140), it can be a challenge to add a relevant hashtag, let alone more than one.

Twitter will also use hashtags to show you topics that are “trending”, or rising in popularity. Looking at this list will show you what people are currently talking about and enable you to add your voice to the conversation. It will also help to highlight some of the problems with hashtags: Since there is no ‘hashtag authority,’ people can use a trending tag to have their post show up even if it’s totally unrelated. You can think of this as “hashjacking.” It’s annoying and makes you look like an obnoxious ass. Don’t do it. Here’s an example:

Rule of thumb: If you want to make your content easier to find, adding a hashtag can help. To be most effective, do a little research first and try to figure out which tag seems to make the most sense and use that. Try to limit your use of tags to just a few.

Some social networks, like Instagram, have no limits on the size of the comments you can add. As a result, you might see an image with several tags. Ultimately, this is completely up to you, but you might want to pause just long enough to consider a couple of things.

First, since there are no rules about hashtags, you’re free to add anything you want. But before adding a tag, you should consider if it has a ‘default’ use. Recently, I saw someone lamenting about a pair of shoes that had been eaten by their dog. They used the tag #rip in the post. I’m not sure if they meant this to mean that the shoes were ‘ripped’ or that they wanted the shoes to ‘rest in peace’, but the common usage of the tag is for the latter. So if you look at all of the photos using this tag, there are some truly heartbreaking stories about tragedy and loss…and one pair of destroyed shoes. Be cautious.

Second, consider how many tags you want to add and your motivation for doing so. If you want to tag that photo of the sky you took with #clouds and #beautiful or even #sky, feel free. This is especially true if you’re adding something new to an existing conversation. But if you feel compelled to keep going, adding things like #blue #monday #instagram #ig #awesome #cool #photooftheday #selfie etc., you might pause long enough to wonder why. Often, adding multiple tags allows people (and/or computer bots) to find and “like” your contribution. In many cases, the bots do this hoping that you’ll follow them back so they can use their inflated number of followers to peddle their influence.

If you’re just hoping total strangers find your photo and ‘like’ it…well, why? Sure, we all recognize that the point of social media is to find out how much people ‘like’ us, but do we really care if they’re total strangers? (There was a great deal of sarcasm in that last sentence.) On the other hand, you might use hashtags to categorize your own photos, so you can come back later and click a tag to see all of your other pictures of #mykids (and every other photo tagged the same) and if people don’t like, screw ’em! That’s also completely up to you (remember, there is no hashtag clearing house or police to tell you what you can and can’t do.) But: It might make you look a little odd, or desperate, or whatever, so keep that in mind. These are just people tapping a little button, they aren’t likely to follow you into battle or help you hide a body.

Look, all sarcasm aside, social media is supposed to be fun. So, by all means, join us and add your voice to the conversation. And if you feel that your contribution should be part of the greater collection, then add all (please, just a few) of the (related) hashtags you want. I’ll be looking forward to your contributions.

Starbucks rolls out new look for the future

I like Starbucks. Honestly, I know that likely puts me into one of two camps and may affect (adversely or otherwise) your opinion of me. But I dig the concept of the third place and I think they are one of the few places that seem to both get it and embrace it.

They have also made good strides in recent years to better understand their customers and improve both their communications and their offerings to meet the needs & wants of those customers. I believe this has much to do with the return of Howard Schultz and is a testament that having a marketer at the helm can be a boost to the overall organization.

So yesterday I got an email from Howard. In it, he thanked me for being a customer and told me that they were making some subtle changes to the Siren that has been a symbol of the company for the past 40 years. He says:

“Our new brand expression reflects our evolving freedom and flexibility to serve and connect with our customers in meaningful ways while continuing to represent the integrity, quality and consistency of the Starbucks Experience.”

Which, I think, is a testament that sometimes a marketer drinks way too much of their own Kool-aid. Or, in this case, coffee.

Still, I think the new look is fresh and certainly seems decidedly more modern than the previous version. It also drops the “Starbucks Coffee” designation, much like Apple dropped “Computer” from their name when it became apparent they were much more than a computer company. Take a look and let me know what you think:

New identity for Starbucks

This image shows the evolution of the Starbucks brand identity throughout the life of the company

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File Under: Who Cares?

adidas Golf 360-Hole PlayoffI received an email today from Adidas Golf telling me about the exciting plans for “THE WORLD’S FIRST 360 HOLE PLAYOFF” featuring two guys I’ve never heard of playing golf for 50 days across nine continents with the ultimate prize hanging in the balance: a job at Adidas Golf.

My first thought: “Who cares?” And even though they were imploring me to follow it online, the more I considered it, the less I felt the whole thing was relevant to me or anyone I know.

Then I noticed that “throughout the entire challenge” (ed. note: playing golf for a month and a half is a ‘challenge’? It sounds like a vacation. But I digress…) Anyway, “throughout the entire challenge, the athletes will put adidas Golf apparel and footwear in play, testing our industry-leading performance technologies in a range of conditions…” On second thought, aside from their mothers, who could possibly care?

Just in case the hook isn’t set yet, you should know that the “two golfers will also compete in a series of competitions off the course.” I’m guessing beer pong. Maybe foosball.

I would be amazed– utterly amazed– if they get enough people following this ‘event’ to call it a success. Can’t wait to hear the results.

What’s your sign? It’s not what you think…

American Avocet

The constellation "American Avocet" as seen in the skies of the Northern Hemisphere in April

If you were born between April 20 & May 20, you may have thought you were a Taurus. It’s a common mistake. You’re actually an American Avocet.

A few months ago, I decided it would be nice to recognize family & friends on their birthdays. After all, who doesn’t love a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” first thing in the morning? Turns out, quite a few people. Most of whom have changed their phone numbers. So I decided to use e-mail instead.

But I realized something was missing. Yes, it was nice to have a little acknowledgement that you survived another year, but I wanted to do something more. It was then that I decided to write horoscopes for everyone. And, having been affiliated with Rare Bird for quite a while, I decided to write them with a bird theme. I call them ‘avascopes’. Corny, I know.

After a few weeks of research into the habits of particular birds, I settled in to write. Strangely, in retrospect, it seems they kind of wrote themselves, but I’ll still take some of the credit. If you’d like to get your birthday email with your avascope included, send me an email with your birthday (the year isn’t necessary, so you can remain 29 as long as you wish.)

In the meantime, I thought you might be interested to know what’s in store for people born under the sign of the American Avocet:

You are unique. Born under the sign of the Avocet, your elegant stature and adaptability set you apart from the rest. Your confidence and bearing put you at ease in the most difficult and trying circumstances. You adjust to shifting realities with aplomb and the duress this might cause others simply rolls off your back.

Avocets are creative and resourceful. When faced with a difficult or trying circumstance, you marshal your inherent skills of persuasion to help others see the benefits of your viewpoint.

What to expect for the coming year? For Avocets, it matters little. Should things be coming up roses, you’ll enjoy the spoils of your efforts as well as anyone else. If things don’t go your way, you’ll simply fall back on your ability to adapt to the shifting environment and make the most of available resources. So regardless of what’s in store, you’ll be fine.

Memories of Lots-o-Huggin’ Bear

Ah, remember those old toys you used to love? Lincoln Logs. Stretch Armstong. Lots-o-Huggin’ Bear. Especially that Huggin’ Bear. Pink fur, purple fuzzy nose and a soft belly that just begged to be squeezed. Smelled like, strawberries. Remember that?

This might help:

You can see other vintage commercials featuring the toys you love on YouTube on the MrCrazyCommercial Channel.


[Note: As an added bonus, look for Lots-o-Huggin’ Bear to show up on the big screen! This summer he’ll have a supporting role in Toy Story 3! File this whole thing under “brilliant marketing”.]