Should commercial conference organisers include the #ad hashtag in their tweets?

I am weary of digital healthcare conference organisers spamming hashtags such as #hcsmeu with weasel-worded tweets promoting their events.

I am of the opinion that these organisations contribute little of value to the health conversation on the social web whilst assuming that they have the right to raid the vehicles through which others share information and conversation for their own commercial purposes.

For everyone’s good, I believe that digital healthcare conference organisers should add the hashtag #ad to any tweet that resolves to a URL containing details of a commercial conference in order that regular users of the hashtag can identify that the link they are inviting them to visit is an advert.

If a reader is in full possession of the facts about the link that they are considering clicking on, the post may no longer be deemed spam.

If a post does not foreground the fact that the URL resolves to a promotional page for a commercial conference, they are publishing link-bait spam.

So: should commercial conference organisers include the #ad (‘advert’) hashtag in promotional tweets containing URLs that resolve to their conferences? Yes, or no?

Afterword: I don’t favour polls that address more than one subject, but I’d also be interested to hear your views in the comments below as to whether you think that third parties should also use the #ad hashtag, or perhaps #spon (‘sponsored’) for events that they are promoting either for remuneration or as a media deal. If there is sufficient interest, I’ll publish a second poll address this question separately. Thanks!

20 thoughts on “Should commercial conference organisers include the #ad hashtag in their tweets?

  1. If it’s an ad, it should be marked as such. I tweet on behalf of others often, including some event promotion. Using hashtags like #hcsmeu as event promotion is a hashtag too far, though. IMO, at least …

  2. It is an interesting question because in social it is more complicated then simply the commercial nature of a company posting a link to the #. I post links to my blog, which is attached to a commercial website (as do you Andrew) but I am not selling anything directly and I hope my posts may have some value to those who follow that tag.

    In essence I am saying that if the events company is contributing something of value and the context of the link is appropriate I don’t see why they should be singled out. However, most of the event companies links don’t do this, are simply an ad and are therefore spam.

    But people who spam are not likely to add any kind of identification such as #ad to help people distinguish them 🙂

    • I think the final point in your second paragraph is the one most relevant to this post, Alex, and the reason 40 percent of respondents to the poll would very much appreciate commercial event companies stepping up and doing this. 🙂

      • I agree Andrew, I suppose I was trying to say that spam is in the eye of the beholder. When you actually just link to an ad then this is obvious- shared value is sometimes more nuanced. There are other companies who also spam #’s with inappropriate content-they should also be targeted. I also don’t count # updates from an event if they offer insight into the meeting for those not in attendance 🙂

  3. As a conference organizer whose gotten under Andrew’s skin in the past on this, I understand the frustration. It’s a tough situation for us, as I’ve been asked frequently on-site by attendees to copy specific group hashtags (like #hcsmeu) along with the conference tag to remind the group’s regular followers that they can keep up with the conference content that day.

    I’m a relatively new Twitter user but I understand the nuisance caused by blatant “Come to our conference” tweets and think those should be limited to the conference tag. However, there seems to a split on who views the tweets on daily conference proceedings as ads and who views them as free insight on a relevant conference he/she couldn’t attend. As long as there is this lack of consensus on the true value of these tweets, I think it’ll be tough to come up with a system everyone will follow.

    Two other notes that come to mind in this discussion:

    – Is there a difference when the tweets are coming from a commercial conference twitter page vs from the personal page of someone employed by said conference? I personally only manage my own personal twitter page. I will try to be vigilant on not including any group hashtags when tweeting, however, how should I qualify what content’s actually worth sharing with other groups? Keep in mind the majority of valuable content I’m exposed to is at conferences or through business relationships forged at conferences, so it’d be tough to not relate tweets to a speaker or contact “at my conference”

    – With regards to #ads, a large portion of my twitter feed is made up of links to the tweeter’s company press release, blog, new product website, “educational article”, etc regardless of their company type. I’ve quickly gotten desensitized to this, given the fact that most of these are promotional messages disguised as content. In a perfect world, shouldn’t all vendor groups follow the #ad protocol, not just conference organizers? I’m not trying to plead innocent on all charges, it just kind of feels like we’re getting singled out.

    Thanks for the active discussion.

    • Thanks, Jayson

      Think of it not as being singled out, but as an opportunity to lead by example.

      Isn’t this a great chance to align your business with doing the right thing? With a commitment to observing good practice in social environments and thereby supporting #socialgood in a modest way?

      Also: why would you risk doing anything else?

      The poll at present suggests that you’re going to be inadvertently spamming 4 out of every 10 people who see every one of your tweets otherwise.

  4. I’m all about leading by example Andrew, and hope we all can make headway on this, I’m just interpreting the poll results a little bit differently. Purely looking at this as a marketing discussion, social has it’s own intricacies, some of which aren’t so pleasant, like self-promotional tweets. No one likes to come home to a bunch of unwanted catalogs and flyers in the mailbox, or get into the office with dozens of unwanted email blasts in your inbox. It’s unpleasant, but it’s the world we live in.

    When actively “marketing to” people, no marketing medium works 100% and there are always some casualties. X% of your printed pieces will annoy someone and end up in a trash can, Y% of your email blasts will annoy someone and lead to an unsubscribe, and I’d venture to suggest that Z% of social promotion will be ignored by someone who was annoyed. Twitter just happens to have the hashtag feature which gives a sense of ownership to those that use the tag most, but no formal ownership that precludes anyone from coming in and using that tag and annoying everyone else, as poor form as it may be.

    I’m not a marketing person so I’m not the most qualified person to analyze the numbers, but I’m reading the poll results as close to 60% of respondents assume promotional tweets come with the territory when you’re engaging socially and have adjusted to it. Perhaps that’s the glass half-full perspective compared to the half-empty perspective of 40% of people feel spammed.

    Again, I am a salesperson at my organization, not a marketer in control of our social marketing initiatives. I only use Twitter as “Jayson who works on conferences”, not the voice of the conference or company itself. I’m sharing my opinion in the spirit of healthy, productive debate, but just want to make sure to clarify that I make no marketing decisions for my company (or for anyone for that matter!), nor am I claiming to have any marketing expertise at all, it’s just how I read the results 🙂

    Putting the general marketing discussion to the side, there is still the debate on how appropriate it is to use established group hashtags for unrelated self-promotion. I think it’s poor form to do so, but I’m curious what your and everyone’s thoughts are on why this should be directed towards conference organizers specifically, over all types of vendors. Thanks all.

    • Hi Jayson

      Thanks once again for sharing your further opinions on this subject. I realise it’s business-critical for your organisation.

      However, I have to take issue with some of the assertions you’re attempting to smuggle in here.

      Firstly, to posit that this is a principally ‘marketing discussion’, pure or otherwise, is to also to presume that ‘marketing to’ people as you describe it above has a relevance to or an appropriateness within social environments.

      I challenge both of those presumptions.

      Social technologies are still in their late infancy as a means of facilitating communications.

      A number of working hypotheses have been made by businesses across industries as to how they may conduct themselves within the social environments that they support, one of which is that ‘marketing’ as a basket of concepts forged in an offline world built around the direct promotion of products and services to customers-as-archetypes is still fit for purpose as a matrix within which to conceptualise their relationships with their customers.

      My assertion is that this is not the case, and that to operate commercially in social environments is to work in a postmarketing economy. Speculation on my part should be of little concern to the strategies of commercial conference organisers, who are only going to care about such niceties when the lines on the chart start pointing down.

      I’ve written extensively on this blog about the precepts of social business as I see them, and one of the foundations of this way of seeing the world is that whilst it may still be convenient to assume that the dominant mode of conceptualising the relationship between vendor and customer as it existed in offline, one-way communications settings remains valid in social, two-way communications settings, that does not mean that it actually *is* still valid.

      In the last instance, I too am doubtless caricaturing this debate by polarising opinion on the subject in the manner outlined above.

      However, I don’t think that commercial digital pharma conferences will dwindle away merely because the way that they promote themselves is an affront to the sensibilities of a proportion of users of the social web.

      Rather, I think that commercial digital pharma conferences will dwindle away simply because they’re just not doing interesting enough things to sustain our attention.

      For their organisers that may be ‘unpleasant, but it’s the world we live in’.

      • Andrew, I appreciate your expertise and the insight in your post, however I don’t necessarily appreciate your tone or choice of words. Accusing me of “smuggling in” assertions or interjecting an unrequested opinion on the inevitable, impending demise of my livelihood, is not the best way to make me feel welcome on this site.

        I understand I’m playing on your home field here, and understand the field may be slanted towards your vantage point, but I figured I’d give it a shot and engage in the conversation professionally considering the poll was on conference organizers. I’d recommend that if you wish to encourage thoughtful back-and-forth on this forum that you welcome comments from both sides of the debate, and treat everyone with respect regardless of their opinion or place of employment.

  5. ok Second try to comment (technicals …)

    Havent you posted similar thoughts somewhere in the past? abt spamming #hcsmeu? However, seems an important question.
    The answer is imo not a black or white.

    A “No” with a “fair-use” to spread the conference hashtag to interested ppl who are not aware of the conference – as organisors. As ppl/attendees/speaker- I explore conference hashtags and its usefull – even to meet IRL, as ppl tweet with #hcsmeu and the conference hashtags…

    A “Yes” if its only used to promote the conference without own hashtag or as speaker/exhibitor – to self-promote more than -lets say once or just to promote without tweeting other useful info

    • Hi Michaela

      Thanks for battling the WordPress comments submission process to share your thoughts on this 🙂

      I agree entirely with your definitions above as they speak to my understanding of what constitutes spam on the social web, namely:

      Talking about (i.e. promoting) our own products and services is spam.

      Talking about the products and services of others because we wish to share and discuss what we find interesting about them is not spam.

      There are many ways of attempting to promote our own products and services indirectly by finding innocuous ways to introduce the subject (for example ‘Checking out venues for the ConferenceName 2013 (link to conference URL) and taking the opportunity to try some of the great restaurants (photo of bacon ;))’) but we’re not kidding anyone when we do this.

      It’s spam, and we know it.

  6. You censored me today Andrew because you believed my use of the #hcsmeu tag was spam on behalf of the takeover I am curating on the eyeforpharma website about the pushing for parity of social media for patient healthcare tools.

    I can’t remember the last time I felt so unjustly treated, And bullied.

    Let me be very clear — there was and is no commercial gain for eyeforpharma nor for me in this experiment. Full credit to them for being gutsy enough to let me totally take over. They have not influenced nor challenged any of the patient blogs, discussion of social media nor lobbying editorials that have appeared. My agenda — clearly and consistently communicated was to emphasise the importance and necessity of social media to improve patient care. In using the eyeforpharma website to do this (note, me using them) I was able to appeal directly to their many pharma readers; in using the #hcsmeu hashtag to highlight the social media health discussions taking place I was — well highlighting the social media discussions taking place. Advertising — yes, absolutely — advertising the importance of health care social media,

    Part of what eforpharma does is commercial. Of course it is.

    IMO we tarnish the touch of commercialisation too much then we are ‘chucking the baby out with the bathwater’. On several levels. And we continue to misinterpret ‘conflict of interest’ as being a bad thing.

    Thank you for letting me express my opinion — and shock.

    I hope we can still be friends despite a very different opinion on this! Recognition for the importance of social media in healthcare is hard-enough if we start to diverge.

    Emma D’Arcy

    • Hi Emma

      You say you feel unjustly treated and bullied by me.

      If I may, I will address these issues separately.

      With regard to the deletion of a tweet posted by yourself using a community account which you consider to be unjust:

      I didn’t censor *you*.

      I deleted a tweet that you were able to post as @hcsmeu which featured a commercial hashtag because you had previously asked for, and were granted, posting privileges as a community moderator.

      As moderators, we must be impartial and respect @hcsmeu’s 1,700 followers.

      In the three years since its inception, @hcsmeu moderators have endeavoured to use the account to promote the #hcsmeu community’s activities, and not to associate the community with *any* commercial interests lest it be inferred that they exert some sort of influence over the account.

      As individuals, we are at liberty to work with whomever we want, wherever we want, whenever we want *as us*.

      However, none of us are entitled to promote the interests and agendas, directly or indirectly, of commercial organisations *as @hcsmeu*.

      That’s why I deleted your post.

      I’m going to refrain from commenting on your broader observations regarding the interests of commercial organisations in associating themselves with patient voices on the basis that neither of us are entitled to use @hcsmeu as a vehicle to air our opinions on the subject.

      To turn to your observation that you felt bullied.

      May we address what happened?

      I saw, and deleted, the tweet you published as @hcsmeu.

      I DMd you immediately to tell you that I had done so, and thanked you for your understanding.

      I would not presume to reproduce the content of that message without having asked your permission, but would be happy to do so, here or anywhere else you like.

  7. Andrew. I wanted to alert your readers to our valiant efforts to resolve our differences and the misunderstanding of the @/# use that precipitated this. We sorted it. And now let’s get on with sorting out the state of healthcare social media! Bigger deals than our accidental spats!

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