2015 saw the birth of a hashtag that would define our rhetoric long after it stopped trending. The #FeesMustFall and subsequent #ZumaMustFall and #RacismMustFall movements relied heavily on social media support. Their impact has been an eye opener for the critics of social media activism and the lack of substantial action it is usually associated with. The last few months has provided us with a wealth of insights into the ways our audiences discover, consume, engage with and share hashtag related content outside of an incentivised setting.
What was more surprising than the engagement on these hashtags was how effective they were at mobilising people offline- proving that users can bridge the gap between the real world and the digital one. While there is power in a hashtag, we’re also stepping into a space of hypersensitivity as users, analysing content with a heated focus. The question is whether this age of scrutiny will be positively transformational or descend into purposeless incitement.
Of course, the unifying aspects of the past year have also been marred by negative and offensive user interactions. In an earlier time, trolling was seen as something inevitable and manageable when met with good community management and moderation. However, public forums have become a breeding ground for racist dialogue, bordering on hate-speech under the guise of Freedom of expression. This has resulted in some of the country’s most engaging publications shutting down their comments sections, but does this peak in negative interaction warrant blocking the engagement we chase on every other social media platform?
Despite tightened measures for moderation, we’re seeing a much more vocal nation of users broadcasting their opinions and participating in discussions on platforms like Twitter. Hashtags are playing an even bigger role than in previous years in furthering public debate. If we have learnt one thing over the past year though, it’s that the opinions and reactions of consumers on social media can have a much bigger impact on the decisions we make than we think. Consumers are making us rethink HR practice, crisis & personal brand management by wielding the hashtag. Anticipating and drawing insight from the hashtags that will rule the coming year boils down to immersing yourself in the trend as it hits. It isn’t about structurally staying ahead as a brand or organisation, it’s all about keeping your finger on the pulse in real time.
NATIVE VML is Africa’s leading full service agency for the Digital Age, working as a strategic partner for brands looking to thrive in this continuously connected world. The cornerstone of our work is to create “purpose-driven work that lives in people’s lives”, which has led to ground breaking campaigns for South Africa’s most loved brands such as Absolut Vodka, BMW, Chivas Regal, Jameson Whiskey, Kulula.com, Nedbank, Nestle, Old Mutual, Pick ’n Pay, Red Bull, Ster Kinekor and The Foschini Group.