On your marks, get set…HASHTAGS!

Estimated read time: 9 minutes

From Justin Gatlin spoiling everyone’s party to athletes pulling out or being pulled out for fear of them chundering everywhere and the subsequent bizarre situation of watching attempts at communication between the IAAF and Team Botswana played out in the BBC’s studio, the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London certainly gave plenty of people plenty of reasons to grumble.

But, being the social media geek I am, I’m here to air a different World Championships gripe; London 2017 was drowning in hashtag overload and it’s made me angry!

Let me explain…

I was lucky enough to be in the London Stadium to watch an evening session with my wife and some friends. We had a great time – our seats were right by the fascinating women’s pole vault final where Team GB’s Holly Bradshaw was left distraught and Greece’s Ekateríni Stefanídi wowed us with a new national record and some excellent dancing. We definitely did our bit in roaring Britain’s Kyle Langford into the 800m final, our hearts swelled with pride when Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill received the gold medal a drugs cheat denied her six years ago and we came absolutely no closer to discovering the true pronunciation of the name of the women’s 100m champion Torie Bowie.

No, Boo-ie.


Anyway, this is just distracting and irrelevant…where was I?


Because a) I’m a nerd and b) it’s legitimately a professional interest, I’m always interested to see how big events approach social media. As I was sat in the stadium and my eyes followed Wade Van Niekerk as he flew through his 400m semi final, I couldn’t help but notice the tag #bethenext that was plastered all around this colosseum of athletics.

In truth, I’d already spotted it on Twitter, as it has a posing Usain Bolt emoji attached to it. I *think* the idea is that you watch the action, feel inspired and post how your now dream to ‘be the next’ runner, jumper, chucker or chucker upper, but can’t be overly sure.

Still, it looked sweet with its bolted-on emoji, so fair play to them.

Imagine, then, when I looked at at one of the digital screens and saw them plugging #IAAFworlds – bold as brass right next to #bethenext.

This is probably just highlighting how sad I am, but this really annoyed me. Why would you deliberately have two competing tags advertised right next to each other? It’s not exactly a clear message for your audience, is it?

You might think that these tags could be sussed out by hopping onto Twitter and seeing what’s being posted, right?


Brace yourselves friends, but these hashtags are spreading like norovirus through a hotel to the point where I have no idea which one I should be using. On top of #bethenextand #IAAFworlds you’ll also find #london2017 (complete with a running track emoji), #IAAFWorldChamps #MoFarah #MoBot and #OneMoMile (all with an incredibly cute Mo Farah emoji), the grassroots uprising of the stadium’s own Archbishop of Banterbury #herothehedgehog and probably a load more in the time it’s taken to write this paragraph – and that’s not including the Championships’ official feed also throwing in #britishsummertime to point out that it’s been raining, and the plethora of accounts people are tagging too.

@IAAFWorldChamps @London2017 @noordinarypark and @LondonStadium – and that’s not to mention the individual athletes, their teams and all the BBC offerings too.

In short, we need to hashtagging calm down.

Call me crazy, but surely just having one hashtag to pull all of that juicy user-generated content together would be the best way to go?

Aside from it being confusing having one event throw three tags at you – and before you point out that different @handles are plugging different tags, as far as the punters go London 2017 and the IAAF World Champs accounts are a single entity – instead just team up and plug the the most obvious and easy one for 60,000 people to remember and add to their content with ease.

#IAAFworlds is clunky and has an acronym that most people either don’t care about or don’t know what it means, so ditch it.

And, while Be the Next as a strapline for a legacy-inspired campaign is great, when presented as #bethenext on Twitter it just smacks of marketing bollocks, so bin that one too.

That leaves the obvious winner of #london2017 – complete with running track emoji. It’s simply the best one.

(I should point out that I’m fine with Mo Farah and Hero the attention-seeking hedgehog having their own tags that people find organically – I’m not a total monster).

Back in the stadium, I started to get the impression that #IAAFWorldChamps wasn’t pulling its weight, as the stadium announcers soon started doing their best to plug it.

But, bless them, it wasn’t the most convincing pitch. Example A…

“She still has a chance of a medal in this final event so, if you want to support Katarina Johnson-Thompson and help her win, make sure you tweet using #IAAFWorldChamps.”

Thanks, but if it’s alright with you I’ll just cheer her on like the rest of the stadium.

Or, my personal favourite, example B…

“Don’t forget to use our official filter on Snapchat and then post it on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest (I’m not 100% he actually said Pinterest at this point, but I’m going with it regardless) using the hashtag #IAAFWorldChamps for a chance of it appearing on our big screen.”

Again, I’ll pass – although that’s cool you have a big screen, you should probably mention it more (they didn’t by the way). This example could warrant its own blog post so I’ll leave it there.

I guess the point of this rant (and, yes, I think there is one) is to urge us all to have common sense around hashtags for a big event. Don’t set up multiple competing tags when one will do the job. Make it easy to remember, relevant to the event and simple for your audience to understand.

When you’ve got a bunch of captive people watching a thing, the last thing you want is every stakeholder doing their own thing. Work together and make it as good an experience for your audience as you can.

After all, the fewer hashtags you ask us to use, the more space we’ve got to write something awesome that you’ll want to screenshot for your post-event wrap up report. Otherwise, well…