Feb 04, 2011

Don’t Hijack Relevance

People around the globe are riveted to ongoing events in Egypt, and Twitter is a primary source of information.  Using hashtags like #Cairo and #Egypt, people are broadcasting the latest news at lighting speed, worldwide.

So when a major fashion label Tweeted about their new spring line causing an uproar in #Cairo, the Twitterverse was apoplectic, causing the brand to later apologize for using the hashtag on an irrelevant Tweet.

This failed tactic is called hijacking  in online vernacular, and it means that a message (whether on a blog’s comments, in a discussion group, or on Twitter) that’s not relevant to the topic at hand is nonetheless dropped into the conversation, usually as a means of gaining attention.

However, hijacking conversations in the social layer just doesn’t work.  It’s the online equivalent of interrupting a conversation at a cocktail party, and it’s as unwelcome on the web as it is IRL (“in real life.”)  And online or off, the subtext of a conversational hijack is clear and not subtle.  The person or brand doing the interrupting is signaling a lack of respect to the audience, saying clearly that they don’t care about the conversation they’ve interrupted.   So in addition to looking boorish, ignoring personal interests and communicating pointedly irrelevant content can also be downright insulting to your audience.

Let’s face it.  The communicating we do on behalf of our brands is ultimately intended to further the brands’ commercial interests.  We are all selling something – a product, an idea, some company stock – every time we issue a message.   And given how search engines and the social layer work together today, the best way to reach a qualified audience, and elicit the sort of responses that produce measurable business results is to be fantastically on point, and totally relevant.

Unfortunately, many communicators ignore their intended audiences’ interests in the quest to gain attention, even when employing tactics much more subtle than the blatant hashtag hijack related at the beginning of this post.  Journalists have complained for years that PR pitches are totally off target, and not related to their beats.  People still try to stuff unrelated keywords into web page metadata, hoping to gain visibility in search engines for popular search terms. Messaging is still crafted to appeal to as many potentially germane vertical markets as possible, no matter how tenuous the link.  Influentials are targeted based upon their Klout scores, and bloggers with decent numbers on Technorati are spammed, as communicators focus on numbers, not areas of influence.

Whatever the tactic employed, ignoring what’s relevant to the audiences’ interest diminishes campaign results.  Content written for all verticals winds up being so watered down, it’s not material to anyone’s interests.  As a result, it’s not read, shared, or linked to, so it doesn’t gain visibility in search engines, shutting off a major source of ongoing traffic.    Bridges are burnt, and credibility is lost when journalists and bloggers get too many irrelevant pitches from a PR pro who doesn’t take the time to understand what they write about on their beat or blog.   And online audiences are quick to dismiss (and un-follow, and un-like) brands that show they “don’t get” how to interact in social networks.

In today’s day and age, relevant and focused messages can find eager and enthusiastic audiences.   Search engines reward specificity, and audiences appreciate it.   Stay on message, keep away from politics, religion and sex and chances are good that you’ll be rewarded with an engaged audience that pays attention to what you say.

What do you think?  Do you agree?

Passionately written by Sarah Skerik, VP social media, PR Newswire.

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