Two experiments by news organisations with Twitter hashtags during today’s UK budget have raised an issue around ‘branding’ and how appropriate it is to social media.
The BBC, it seems, is encouraging users to adopt the #BBCBudget hashtag to flag their tweets as part of the ‘national conversation’. Channel 4’s Faisal Islam, above, feels it’s a waste of 3 characters.
But Channel 4 itself is trying something not too dissimilar: #C4cuts aims to crowdsource details of UK spending cuts. Ed Fraser, online editor for Channel 4 News, is quoted by Journalism.co.uk as saying the channel wants to “harness the power of social media and the wisdom of the crowd”.
But the crowd has already started doing this – Where Are The Cuts? most visibly and effectively, but also in niche areas by Voluntary Sector Cuts, Birmingham Budget Cuts (disclosure: run by my Birmingham MA Online Journalism students), and even The Guardian on library cuts.
I’m curious why Channel 4 didn’t decide to add to it, rather than going it alone with a ‘branded’ hashtag. Meanwhile, it raises a common issue with any crowdsourced project: who claims ownership on what is produced? By branding a hashtag (and there are good technical and editorial reasons* for doing so) you risk people thinking this is a marketing exercise – how do you avoid that distrust?
I can see that from C4’s perspective (the editorial reasons mentioned above – it’s also why I use ‘brand’ in inverted commas – I’m not saying that C4 or BBC are trying to brand anything) but I’m talking about users’ perspectives. Some will be suspicious – and if there are other sites doing similar work that isn’t being linked to (for whatever reason) then those suspicions are likely to be increased.
UPDATE 2: CisionBlog have a visualisation of hashtagged tweets which gives a good indication why ‘branded’ hashtags may be useful on a subject so heavily tweeted:
FROM THE COMMENTS – UPDATE 3: The BBC’s Alex Gubbay explains:
“The potential benefits for us around using something like #BBCBudget are two-fold:
- “It easily allows our audience to follow all the tweets from our main accounts and key tweeters on the story (ie: @Peston @BBCStephanie @BBCLauraK etc.) in a hopefully more manageable way.
- “It gives both our audience and our teams a chance to filter the overall narrative where appropriate – based on prompts and the thrust of our on-air coverage.”
There’s a lot of very informed discussion in the comments – worth going through in full.
UPDATE 4 (March 24): The BBC’s Trushar Barot has blogged about the experiment and the reasons behind it:
“The key beneficiary of the hashtag experiment has been the Live Event Page on the BBC News website. One of our producers who was responsible for ensuring the best tweets went onto the page told me that having a dedicated BBC hashtag had made a huge difference editorially. Since the audience was proactively using the hashtag, it was easier for us to republish those tweets on the website, as their writers had made the choice to engage with us. It felt much more comfortable editorially than just taking tweets without someone’s permission – even if Twitter’s terms may allow us to do that.”