Obama Riding the Twitter Hashtag Waves, or the Half-Life of Hashtags

With the announcement of President Obama’s support for same-sex marriage, the hashtag #MarriageEquality has rocketed on Twitter.  That’s not surprising.

But what is surprising is how short lived these hashtags are.  They’re not wars, meant to last to November.  They’re not battles, defining a key component of the President’s strategy.  They’re just skirmishes — a quick engagement and then a fade out.

Here’s a chart of the four most recent Obama-related hashtags – #DontDoubleMyRate, #Forward, #Julia (that one was created by opponents), and now #MarriageEquality:

Click to enlarge image

As you can see, the pattern is for a big initial spike and then a quick decay until, about a week later, the tag is just noise.

This makes me wonder two things:

  1. Will the President and his team work to keep some hashtags (perhaps #Forward) alive? It will take near daily effort if they do.  They have to work to make the tag relevant over and over again.
  2. Or will we continue to see a sort of hashtag of the week between now and the election? If so, that will take a different kind of effort.  It’s like an endless cycle of week long marketing campaigns.

The one thing the chart shows is that, after a hashtag dies down, if the President’s team doesn’t (re-)launch a new one, someone else will.  Twitter is not a place for long term conversations, and the lesson for everyone is that it takes constant, sustained effort to try to dominate the conversation.

Hashtag Hijack: #Forward moving the President Backwards

I wrote, earlier, about how the attempt to hijack the hash tag #DontDoubleMyRate didn’t really work out too well.  Well, a few days have passed, and now the hashtag du jour is #Forward, and once again conservatives are attempting to take over the tag for their own purposes.

Will they fail like last time? Nope.  This time they’re pulling it off.  In a review of roughly 15,000 posts up to midnight, 4/30/2012 (EDT), the uses of #Forward are:

Roughly two thirds of all tweets using the hash tag are anti-Obama.

Compare this to what happened with #DontDoubleMyRate:

I think we can draw the conclusion that if you come up with a hash tag that personally resonates with your constituency, they’ll tweet their hearts out.  The number of tweets for the #DontDoubleMyRate hash tag is about 4 times larger than for #Forward, and the difference is probably the added supporters of Obama.  I suspect that there’s going to be a consistent pool of conservatives who will jump on (and trash) any hash tag Obama is using, and if the pro-obama tweeple don’t get excited, the hash tag is going to go down in flames.


I retrieved 15,038 tweets using the hashtag #forward prior to 5/1/2012, which was all the tweets using #forward  I could find.  Of those, I randomly examined 375 to determine if the tweet was pro- or anti-obama or just unrelated (a few soccer and basketball forwards in the mix).  That determination is admittedly subjective, but is really only likely to be in question for a small # of tweets (most were abundantly clear that they were anti-obama.  Some required looking at the contents of a URL to determine the intent, and for the 5 or 6 that were that way I just marked them as no being anti-Obama.)The sample size allows me to estimate the percentage of anti-Obama tweets is 68% +/- 5%, with a confidence level of 95%. Statistics FTW!