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December 04, 2012

UPDATED: Bloomberg TV Barges In on Burlington's #BTV Hashtag, Twitter Chaos Ensues


Savvy Burlington-area residents have long used the hashtag #BTV to consolidate local content on Twitter, from the mundane (sunset pictures and lunch updates) to the serious (emergency management during storms). But #BTV is a simple hashtag that could stand for many things, and it's come under threat before — chiefly from users talking smack about state-run TV stations in Bahrain, Botswana and other B countries. (See "Burlington Meets Bahrain: When Twitter Hashtags Collide" from 2011 for more about that.)

But today, hashtag-jacking reached new heights when Bloomberg TV barged in. This did not go over well with Burlingtonians.

The news network had tried to use #BTV before, notably to collect Hurricane Sandy photos last month. But those tweets never caught enough traction to overwhelm Burlington content — until today, when the network pledged to use #BTV-tagged tweets in its iPad app while it aired a lunch-hour interview with President Barack Obama. Unfortunately for Vermonters, Obamarama trumped the Queen City, at least for a little while.

(Quick side note if you're new to Twitter and/or hashtaggery: No one "owns" a hashtag, so it's not like Burlington residents can complain to Twitter about having their hashtag swiped. A hashtag is really little more than a search archive of the tweets that include it. That's why Burlington locals were worried that their content would be utterly overwhelmed by Bloomberg TV's 105,000+ followers.)

The only way to fight back when someone jacks your hashtag? Flood it with your own content. This inspired a lovely round of trolling from Burlington Tweeters — which, in full disclosure, was egged on by this professional Twitter jockey. Below is a Storify showing the chronology of the great #BTV hashtag war of 2012, with political tweets on one side and gratuitous Lake Champlain photos on the other.

Bloomberg TV Barges In on Burlington's #BTV Hashtag, Twitter Chaos Ensues

What happens when an international TV network and a city of 42,000 clash over a Twitter hashtag.

Storified by Tyler Machado · Tue, Dec 04 2012 12:58:54

It started when Bloomberg TV and its "social media maven" promoted the Obama interview and encouraged viewers to use the #BTV hashtag to chime in on Bloomberg's iPad app...
EXCLUSIVE: President @BarackObama gives his first re-election interview to #BTV's @JuliannaGoldman. WATCH 1230pm ET TV
Plan to watch the President's interview? Download the Bloomberg TV+ FREE iPad app and join the LIVE chat using #BTVKaty Finneran
That's when the locals who use the hashtag pushed back -- and with no response from Bloomberg, the trolling came shortly thereafter.
@KatyFinneran @brianstelter #BTV has long been used for Burlington, VT. There will be a lot of non-@BloombergTV info in there.Benjamin D. Bloom
@KatyFinneran @brianstelter Seriously; #BTV is a longstanding public organizer up here; there are plenty of alternatives for you to use.Bill Morris
#btv is for Burlington, Vermont. Bloomberg TV can have #BBTV, it makes more sense. #TwoStrongSyllablesSean-Patrick Burke
Tweet failed, hashtag taken. RT @eoshow: @bloombergtv1 this is a test for #btv testingAbbie
Is there such a thing as proper social media etticate? How about searching a hashtag before using it? #btvZach S
Hey @BloombergTV, #BTV is taken and Burlingtonians have a way of getting...loud. :)Emily McManamy
Hey @BloombergTV, you probably shouldn't use #BTV. It's Burlington #VT's airport abbrev. and often used by so many other businesses in #VT.ChrisTAL
#BTV is Vermont! Here are a couple calves from the Champlain Fair here to support #BTV #Vermont and not @bloombergTV
Gull over the #btv waterfront, still not a television station S
FWIW, I asked @BloombergTV politely to lay off during #sandy looks like they don't read. #btvBill Morris
@BloombergNews do you guys just like to hijack hashtag or too lazy to research if a hashtag is already taken? #btvChristopher Lei
But once the interview started, the Bloomberg watchers chimed in, too.
@barackobama tells #btv we have 'potential' of getting deal of fiscal cliffColleen Wordock
#BTV Obama still holding fear over common people. That is my opinion. He needs to work on truth issues. Why he wants wralthy tax.Nancy
I really dig the tie the president is rocking on #BTV right nowShawna Ohm
"American poised to take off" -Prez #BTVBrian Sozzi
One problem! Those crafty geeks at Bloomberg TV wisely moderated their iPad app's Twitter chat, so all those #BTV tweets coming from Burlington didn't show up (although they presumably made the moderator's life a little more difficult on the back end). Bizarrely, though, one tweet from yours truly made it through...
BAM. Think I cracked the code. Obama + tie + #BTV + @bloombergTV = FAMOUS TWEET. Machado
There was also a tweet about Phish that made it into the chat, which was maybe something or maybe just a coincidence.
Phish tweet made it through to @BloombergTV #BTV chat. Is this an olive branch to Burlington? Machado
The interview lasted about 30 minutes. Now that it's over, control of #BTV has returned to Burlington (mostly).

It's easy to create a hashtag for a community to form around, but it's just as easy for a larger community to swoop in and wreck your hashtag. No, Bloomberg didn't break any Twitter rules by claiming #BTV, and it's a small thing in the long run.

But speaking as someone who's created hashtags for communities and events in the past, Bloomberg's social media crew should have checked to make sure #BTV wasn't already in use. It's bad form to disrupt an existing community, and it dilutes Bloomberg's own attempts at creating a space for dialogue when unrelated content is in the mix. May we humbly suggest #BloombergTV or even #BloomTV next time?

I've reached out to a member of Bloomberg TV's social media team for comment and will update this post if I hear back.


UPDATE, 12/5:

Thoughtfaucet's Gahlord Dewald has a blog post up with some very cool number crunching. In his graphs you can see how the Burlington crowd more than held its own against the Bloomberg invaders, though it might also be fair to say that the locals and the Bloomberg watchers contributed equally to making the stream unusually noisy and un-useful.

Also, WCAX's Kyle Midura managed to get in touch with a Bloomberg spokesperson, who said the network is sorry for the trouble but that they'll probably keep using it anyway. Burlington won the battle, but the hashtag war continues.

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