Justin Bieber and the Billboard Music Awards: A Tale of Dueling Hashtags
Justin Bieber and the Billboard Music Awards: A Tale of Dueling Hashtags

A lot can happen in the blink of an eye when you live your professional life in the social media world. Especially when your section of the social-media world includes some of the most popular artists online: Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Chris Brown, Rihanna, Justin Bieber...

Especially Justin Bieber -- and his 22 million Twitter followers.

A social media plan for an event as large as the Billboard Music Awards doesn't come together overnight, and our team began putting together our strategy, partnerships and tactics about six months ago.

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As expected, things began heating up as the show drew near. Many of our sponsors wanted social media integration, and quite a few had social media-driven campaigns tied to the awards show that included campaign hashtags as well as the official show hashtag, #BBMA.

About two weeks before the show aired, a number of projects kicked off simultaneously and the media swirl began in earnest.

Everyone had our media one-sheet. Everyone (we thought) was on the same page about which accounts to tag in their Tweets and Facebook posts, which hashtag(s) to use for which subject/campaign, and who to go to for questions …

And then Justin Bieber tweeted with a different hashtag: #BILLBOARDawards

One tweet with a different hashtag? Not such a big deal.

But then he tweeted again.

and again

and again.

Now, don't get me wrong, having Justin Bieber tweet about ANYTHING relating to your brand is a huge win, especially if you're trying to draw attention to something specific, like a live awards show. We were thrilled.

But as the person leading the social media efforts -- with a huge team of people briefed, supporting, contributing, and more -- Justin Bieber's 22,000,000 beliebers caused concern, and I wondered out loud to Twitter and my boss if we should switch the official hashtag from #BBMA to #BillboardAwards to match what Bieber and his beliebers were using.

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Twitter responded and shared a recap of last year's hashtag usage along with their recommendation to switch the official hashtag, which would mean talking to the production company, the broadcast partner, every show sponsor, our own PR team, each artist camp, plus our own online fans, media partners, employees and anyone else involved in the show.

Though the argument to switch was compelling, and even though #BillboardAwards was beating the hashtag we'd been using in public for months (22,000 Tweets to 15,000 Tweets leading up to the show), I wasn't convinced that switching was the right move considering all the moving pieces and the on-air integrations planned.

So I brought the issue to my boss and against advice from my peers in the social media world AND advice from Twitter, we decided to stick with our original strategy and keep the hashtag we planned our tactics around.

Instead of switching, we just added the hashtag that the beliebers of the world were using, just like we added other similar hashtags that we saw popping up as the show day approached. We figured that the "dueling hashtags" would tell an interesting story after the show, and we were reasonably confident that the official hashtag would win the day due to the on-air integration and wide outreach around the hashtag to artists, media outlets and fans.

That turned out to be the case (see graphic below).

Lessons learned?
- You have to ALWAYS pay attention to how people are talking about your brand and your events
- Never be afraid to change something that's "set in stone," even if it means a lot of work.
- If something comes up (like a fan-created hashtag), evaluate it and make a strategic decision about if it's worth changing your "set in stone" plan for. Not all situations will require a change, but all of them should be evaluated.
- Justin Bieber's beliebers are extremely passionate… and 22,000,000 people Tweeting about something is never something to take lightly.