Last week, as Twitter users posted all sorts of messages – from innocent to lewd - using the organically trending hashtag #alliwant, a number of brands jumped on the bandwagon. They did so by including the hashtag in their own sponsored tweets, which then appeared in rotation at the top of #alliwant search results pages.
"#alliwant is #happiness. What about you?" asked Coca-Cola in a paid promoted tweet that appeared above other tweets using the hashtag. The anti-AIDS initiative Greater Than AIDS also used the hashtag in a promoted tweet that rotated along with the one from Coke.
General Mills-owned Pillsbury posted tweets last week that included #alliwant and another trending hashtag, #lemmeguess. "#lemmeguess You're craving something sweet! Satisfy your afternoon sweet tooth with chocolatey Sweet Moments!" declared the promoted tweet, which linked to a Pillsbury.com page featuring descriptions of Sweet Moments goodies like bite-size brownies. The brand aims to build awareness of the new product line.
Rather than developing their own hashtags, the technique allows brands to tap into the real-time Twitter zeitgeist originating with everyday users rather than corporate brands. The approach represents the rapid evolution and sophistication of brands as they experiment with paid Twitter opportunities.
"We look at trending hashtags every day and determine which ones would be relevant to our product, our strategy and to consumers," Jeanette Tinsley, interactive marketing manager for General Mills, told ClickZ News in an e-mail.
"We have to be selective and it has to make sense - especially since we want to be careful not to 'spam' our followers with an overwhelming number of Promoted Tweets. Once we have chosen a hashtag to work with, we find the most relevant content from Pillsbury.com that fits the topic. Typically these are recipes or tips, and occasionally they highlight a specific product, such as the Sweet Moments #lemmeguess tweet," she said.
Twitter spokesperson Matt Graves told ClickZ, "Any advertiser running a Promoted Tweet campaign can include an organically-trending term in their Tweet. There is no additional cost for including an organically-trending term in a Promoted Tweet. "
He continued, "You are seeing more now because more companies are advertising on Twitter and because those advertisers are finding that using those terms can help make their Promoted Tweets more engaging."
Pillsbury has purchased promoted tweets since November, in part to drive consumers to its recipe content during this season of cooking and baking. According to Tinsley, earlier Twitter promotions that ran around Thanksgiving were successful. Pillsbury recently pushed Twitter followers to its recipe for French Silk Chocolate Pie using the organically-trending #alliwant hashtag, and has also used trending tags including #rememberwhen and #decemberwish.
Pillsbury has also tried day-parting promoted tweets. When pushing a coupon for its Sweet Moments treats, for example, the brand promoted the tweet in the mid-afternoon, when people "are really craving a sweet pick-me-up," according to Tinsley.
Brands More Comfortable With User Content
The calm with which traditional household brands have associated their names with the uncontrollable content of Twitter posts that use trending phrases could mark a milestone in social media marketing.
For years, advertisers - especially household brands - have been reluctant to run online ads alongside consumer generated content that could include controversial or offensive statements. But as advertisers adopt the parlance of digital communications in the hopes of engaging more organically with people on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, they appear more willing to take risks.
For instance, recent promoted tweets purchased by Pillsbury, RadioShack, and other brands have appeared alongside profanity-laced, sexual, or even overtly racist tweets.
When asked about that, Tinsley responded, "This is the nature of Twitter. It would be unrealistic to expect to control other people's Tweets and how/when they appear. We are consistent with how we manage our own tone and voice, and we feel with that consistency users will recognize who we are and be able to differentiate us from the rest of the stream."
Brands may be less thrilled when paying for a promoted trend that is then hijacked by other companies whose organic tweets appear below the paid promoted trend tweet. Today, for example, beneath AT&T's paid tweets using the company's promoted #lastminutegift hashtag, tweets from brands including Chili's Grill & Bar and The Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association pushed last minute gift ideas from those brands.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.