People are misspelling brand hashtags, and it's only going to get worse

Adventures in real-time hot takes and social media phenomena.

Photo credit: Getty images
Photo credit: Getty images

Two Sundays ago, HBO fantasy epic Game of Thrones returned with the premiere of its eighth and final season. Aside from dominating water-cooler conversations, it was the most-tweeted-about episode of the show ever, topping the 5-million mark.

However, non-fans who keep track of trending topics may have thought there was a new sensation called Game of Thornes. One out of every 101 hashtags about the show was misspelled on Twitter, according to social media monitoring company Brandwatch.

In the last month, the hashtag #GameofThrones was mentioned more than 6.1 million times, while #GameofThornes got more than 61,000 mentions, according to the firm.

Sloppy spellings don’t just happen in Westeros. #AvengersEndgame got more than 5 million mentions in the past month, while #AvangersEndgame received nearly 55,000 mentions. Doing the math, one out of every 94 hashtags that tried to join the conversation was foiled by typos.

There’s a simple correlation: the more an event is mentioned on Twitter, the more a hashtag is misspelled. The night of Game of Thrones’ season eight premiere, one of every 87 mentions was a typo, but on Monday, April 22, the day after episode two of season eight, one of every 50 tweets was incorrect.

The problem is getting worse. Data from 2013 indicates typos occurred in one of every 400 hashtags six years ago, says Brandwatch senior communications manager Kellan Terry.

"Tens of thousands of mentions isn’t a small number, so to see 61,000 mentions in the last 30 days of a particular typo is something of significance," he says. "The culture around posting on social media has also changed, becoming a lot faster and real-time. That also leads to more hashtag typos."

Another problem: the demand for instant analysis and "hot takes," Terry adds.

"It is just people trying to drop their hot takes quickly and resonate in and of the moment," he says. "In doing so, their fingers might be moving so quickly that they might mess up a keystroke."

HBO, meanwhile, has other things to worry about -- like the cost of CGI zombie dragons, perhaps. "We don’t engage with misspelled hashtags," says Laura Young, HBO SVP of corporate affairs and regional PR.

However, for other brands, misspelled hashtags are more of a concern. Although the typos won’t hurt searchability or harm a campaign, even when a misspelled hashtag is a top trending topic on the social network, they can be a problem when a key influencer or celebrity has overly zealous Twitter fingers, says Stacy Minero, head of content creation at Twitter. When Twitter analyzes a campaign, it examines multiple search terms related to the push.

"Misspelled hashtags making it into the top trends is more of an anomaly than the norm," she says. "I think what happens is one notable person either shares, creates or retweets something that has that misspelling in it, and that gets latched onto. That was the case with #GameOfThornes."

But what if the success of a campaign hinges on a hashtag? Adam Ritchie, principal of Adam Ritchie Brand Direction, says that happened with one of his clients that thought it had the perfect hashtag: six characters, prime real estate on the label of the product, a clear call to action and an immediate reward for using it.

"It worked, but it had an occasional hiccup," says Ritchie. "The product we placed it on was a beer clocking in at 7.5% [alcohol by volume]."

Nearly everyone got it right, but there were misspelled tweets. Blame it on the alcohol, perhaps.

"The lesson there was: when you hand someone alcohol and a set of instructions, they're not always going to get it on the first try," says Ritchie.

There’s a divide between the ways consumers enjoy hashtags and how brands create them, and rarely do the two meet, he explains. Consumers use hashtags for conversations, while brands employ them to track campaign performance. That leaves it to marketers to level up and write better hashtags that bridge the gap.

Inebriation is one reason a hashtag could go awry; others could be poor construction of a hashtag or a product name being spelled nontraditionally. Leaning on influencers to spell a hashtag correctly is also risky, says Ritchie.

"Trusting a social influencer, usually a photographer at heart, with correct spelling is like trusting a graphic designer with copy," he says. "There will be mistakes."

Minero has more advice for brands: don’t complicate a hashtag by using too many words.

Ritchie says to make sure it’s simple, obvious and under 10 characters, such as #MeToo, #TimesUp, #TeamCoco and #Oscars.

Even that is no guarantee of success, Ritchie laments: "You can lead a horse to a hashtag, but you can't make them spell it right."

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