Power to the #: Tagboard and the Sports Strategy of Hashtags

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Tagboard helps some of the biggest brands in the world play a more active role in the social conversation by encouraging their audiences to share their experiences on a branded, moderated platform.

User-generated content is the gold mine inside social media. Across its varied platforms, one of the simplest but most effective ways for sports brands to mine that gold is with hashtags.

Take a look around. They’re everywhere. More brands — of all kinds — are developing hashtag strategies to capitalize on the conversations in social media. It’s the new, or at least next, call to action in marketing.

“There is a lot of buzz about the hashtag being the next URL,” says Dan Redwine, director of community outreach at Tagboard. “It’s the new way for people to connect, share information and engage around any subject.”

You’ve heard about hashtags, but if Tagboard doesn’t ring a bell, I suspect it will soon — especially if you follow college or pro sports (or attend their games), enjoy brand journalism, or just like the latest social media trends.

With roots in tech-savvy Seattle, Tagboard expanded its niche social media service outside of Washington, where a year ago it was a fledgling start-up. Fast-forward 12 months, and Tagboard is cashing in on the hashtag craze, providing content-hungry consumers — especially sports fans — with a new fix.

Following a recent $2 million funding injection, it seems Tagboard provides content-hungry brands with a valuable service, too.

Tagboard is basically a collection point for hashtags or similar social media-driven topics. For consumers, it is aggregated content on steroids — pulling data from across myriad social media sources, while its paying customers — companies, brands, teams, etc. — customize the look-and-feel of their respective pages, displaying them to various audiences.

But this tool is more than a flash in the pan. Yes, it’s a start-up, but it’s gaining traction — and paying clients — in established sports markets like Major League Baseball and NCAA football. Why? Tagboard is built for sports — or any brand producing highly engaging, exceptionally visual, event-driven content.

“We never planned on having such a strong sports focus,” Redwine told Fourth and 140 recently. “However, the sports community is full of ideal Tagboard users, because they’re so passionate about their teams. That being said, we also focus on a lot of different verticals, but for the sports teams, I think mainly it’s our ability to leverage the game-time setting with our live-event mode.”

Redwine says Tagboard works with teams on a variety of engagement strategies — like displaying user-generated content on the big screen at Safeco Field for the Seattle Mariners (see video below), or on Stanford’s ribbon board display and web site.

“Our main objective is to make sure every fan is heard and that we are engaging in that conversation with them,” Mariners director of marketing Kevin Martinez says in an interview on Tagboard’s blog. “We really pride ourselves on being responsive to our fans. Without Tagboard, we would not be able to have such a high presence of social media in our game presentation. We have seen the amount of posts spike 10-fold.”

Despite hashtag success stories like the Mariners are seeing, traditional marketers are skeptical. I’ve heard them, too. From lack of value, to too risky, to off brand.

Tagboard provides a tool to mitigate those risks and deliver more value to marketers — in just about any industry.

First, let’s address the risks. Calls to action (CTAs) in traditional, paid media generally drive to owned (and therefore controlled) properties, not the Wild West of Twitter or Instagram. Using paid media to direct consumers to a hashtag instead of a website is difficult to quantify in traditional, “buy my stuff” advertising terms. And it can distract from those more established CTAs — like “visit our website” or even more recently, “Find us on Facebook.”

Execution is also risky, especially given Twitter’s snarky and skeptical nature, which can ruin even the most perfectly planned hashtag implementation. And there’s no ownership or copyright of hashtags — especially across different networks, not to mention the purported uselessness of Facebook hashtags.

Tagboard tackles both concerns, offering more control in a moderated environment, where board owners can choose to display the best-of-the-best content. It’s also promising improved analytics features.

The lesson here is that hashtags aren’t going away. It’s why a hashtag strategy should be discussed at the upper levels of an organization, whether it’s football or financial services. These are more than mere words or catch phrases. They enhance a brand’s existence, tell your story, connect you to a larger audience — in paid, owned and earned settings.

Hashtags should be treated (and chosen) with respect, and not delegated to a game-day intern or disengaged agency. And, as Tagboard proves, hashtags should be taken seriously, even if it’s a little silly giving so much power to the # sign.

Thanks for being a fan.

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