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New Hashtag Pages Shift Twitter’s Function from Sharing to Discovery

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In an effort to expand its reputation as the center of real-time conversation, Twitter has launched a pilot program to reinvent the experience of following an event on the platform. Twitter’s new “hashtag pages,” curated by an editorial team at the company, help evolve its function from sharing to discovery.

NASCAR and Turner Sports have signed on as launch partners for the initiative. For last weekend’s Pocono 400 race, Twitter activated a dedicated landing page for searches on the term #NASCAR. The page was designed to create an “enhanced live event experience” by offering a portal populated with curated tweets and photos from influencers within the NASCAR community.

Generated through algorithmic search and input from Twitter’s media team, the hashtag pages strive to offer a greater level of insight into and engagement with an event by delivering only the most relevant posts from the most trusted sources.

For the #NASCAR page, tweets from drivers, team owners, commentators and journalists were packaged together to serve fans the most popular, informative posts – eliminating the need to pore through pages of traditional Twitter searches (see below).

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The most immediate benefit of the new curated pages is their ability to enhance the second-screen viewing experience during live events. Finding relevant or engaging posts is often a challenging task during popular events, such as the recent Champions League match between Barcelona and Chelsea or the Super Bowl, when the volume of posts can top 12K per second.

Twitter already distinguishes Top Tweets at the top of search results; however, this system lacks a level of human curation and discern. It also doesn’t include photos, as the hashtag pages do. In addition, the new pages can incorporate relevant content that does not specifically utilize the #NASCAR hashtag, which allows for a greatly expanded level of content inclusion.

The launch of hashtag pages should no doubt excite users who turn to Twitter when following live events – but what will the update mean for marketers? Below we answer some questions that the introduction of hashtag pages might provoke.

  1. What is a brand’s editorial involvement? Twitter told Mashable earlier this week that there was no brand participation in the curation of the #NASCAR page, meaning that the Twitter team was fully responsible for the selecting which content is most relevant and will create the best experience for Twitter users. In other words, the hashtag landing pages are Event Pages with brand sponsorship – and not an extension of Brand Pages.
  2. What is the opportunity for brands sponsoring live events? It’s likely that the expansion of the hashtag pages will include events that receive the highest volume of conversation, such as award ceremonies and sporting events. If your brand is sponsor of or partner to major events – such as NBC with its coverage of London 2012 or Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the recent American Idol finale – a hashtag landing page could be an effective tool for aggregating buzz and creating a more relevant user experience around your event.
  3. How can brands enter the conversation on hashtag pages? For brands that are not directly involved with major events, the foremost implication of this update will be ensuring that relevant content from your brand appears in the curated feed if you wish to enter conversations around that particular topic or event. As the program has only been live for a single event, it’s too early to identify tangible patterns as to which content will be selected, but the clear relationship between the posts on the #NASCAR page was their relevancy in the moment and the legitimacy of the source.
  4. Will hashtag pages replace bespoke aggregation platforms? In the case of brands that have already built their own aggregation platforms, hashtag pages won’t do much in the near term. The efficacy of the hashtag landing page is greatest when focused on very large-scale events that last for extended periods and draw attention both before and after the event, such as a NASCAR race or the Academy Awards. For brands that aggregate conversations through bespoke platforms – like USA Network’s popular Chatter application, or Bravo’s Talk Bubble – the scale isn’t quite there yet for incorporation of hashtag pages into their platforms.
  5. Can brands sponsor hashtag pages? Another potential opportunity for brands is the ability to sponsor events where they might not be deeply or directly connected. It makes obvious sense for NASCAR to be the headliner on the #NASCAR page, but for other events, it may be beneficial for an outside sponsor to step into the partnership role. Twitter has made no mention of this possibility, but considering the cost of page curation and the perpetual search for ways to expand the monetization of the platform, this seems to be a likely progression.

Hashtag pages signal a move by Twitter to introduce new user experiences within the platform that shift its function from sharing to discovery. By curating posts and eliminating extraneous content, hashtag pages become a focal point of behind-the-scenes information and deeper insights that exist alongside commentary from primary media sources. Of course, the enhanced second screen experiences during live events should also be a boon to advertisers seeking to enter relevant conversations through promoted tweets, or perhaps someday sponsorship of the page itself.

On the heels of hashtag pages, Twitter also launched “Tailored Trends” this week, designed to help users discover the topics that Twitter believes are the most relevant, based on location and accounts followed.

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Similar to hashtag pages, Tailored Trends is an attempt to scale down the deluge of information available on Twitter by using an algorithm tuned to recognize the types of trends that will keep users interested. Users still have the option of changing which trending topics list they see by changing their location to the desired list, but it appears that Twitter is moving pretty quickly in the direction of optimization for personalized relevancy.