UPDATED: Bloomberg TV Barges In on Burlington's #BTV Hashtag, Twitter Chaos Ensues | Off Message

UPDATED: Bloomberg TV Barges In on Burlington's #BTV Hashtag, Twitter Chaos Ensues



Savvy Burlington-area residents have long used the hashtag #BTV to consolidate local content on Twitter, from the mundane (sunset pictures and lunch updates) to the serious (emergency management during storms). But #BTV is a simple hashtag that could stand for many things, and it's come under threat before — chiefly from users talking smack about state-run TV stations in Bahrain, Botswana and other B countries. (See "Burlington Meets Bahrain: When Twitter Hashtags Collide" from 2011 for more about that.)

But today, hashtag-jacking reached new heights when Bloomberg TV barged in. This did not go over well with Burlingtonians.

The news network had tried to use #BTV before, notably to collect Hurricane Sandy photos last month. But those tweets never caught enough traction to overwhelm Burlington content — until today, when the network pledged to use #BTV-tagged tweets in its iPad app while it aired a lunch-hour interview with President Barack Obama. Unfortunately for Vermonters, Obamarama trumped the Queen City, at least for a little while.

(Quick side note if you're new to Twitter and/or hashtaggery: No one "owns" a hashtag, so it's not like Burlington residents can complain to Twitter about having their hashtag swiped. A hashtag is really little more than a search archive of the tweets that include it. That's why Burlington locals were worried that their content would be utterly overwhelmed by Bloomberg TV's 105,000+ followers.)

The only way to fight back when someone jacks your hashtag? Flood it with your own content. This inspired a lovely round of trolling from Burlington Tweeters — which, in full disclosure, was egged on by this professional Twitter jockey. Below is a Storify showing the chronology of the great #BTV hashtag war of 2012, with political tweets on one side and gratuitous Lake Champlain photos on the other.

It's easy to create a hashtag for a community to form around, but it's just as easy for a larger community to swoop in and wreck your hashtag. No, Bloomberg didn't break any Twitter rules by claiming #BTV, and it's a small thing in the long run.

But speaking as someone who's created hashtags for communities and events in the past, Bloomberg's social media crew should have checked to make sure #BTV wasn't already in use. It's bad form to disrupt an existing community, and it dilutes Bloomberg's own attempts at creating a space for dialogue when unrelated content is in the mix. May we humbly suggest #BloombergTV or even #BloomTV next time?

I've reached out to a member of Bloomberg TV's social media team for comment and will update this post if I hear back.


UPDATE, 12/5:

Thoughtfaucet's Gahlord Dewald has a blog post up with some very cool number crunching. In his graphs you can see how the Burlington crowd more than held its own against the Bloomberg invaders, though it might also be fair to say that the locals and the Bloomberg watchers contributed equally to making the stream unusually noisy and un-useful.

Also, WCAX's Kyle Midura managed to get in touch with a Bloomberg spokesperson, who said the network is sorry for the trouble but that they'll probably keep using it anyway. Burlington won the battle, but the hashtag war continues.