Hashtags on programmes – It’s the bat signal!

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary, writing for ComputerWeekly this week, has picked up on the BBC displaying a hashtag at the start of the new series of Have I Got News For You and said some very nice and insightful things about it:

…when the BBC started broadcasting episode 1 of series 40 of ‘Have I got news for you’ with ‘#bbcHIGNFY’ on screen as the show started, they expected their audience to understand – and follow

I think that’s quite a watershed moment for the BBC and for broadcasting in general. In fact, the very term broadcasting starts to become redundant when the broadcast is only one component of the entire entertainment experience.



It’s actually not the first time BBC programmes have displayed a hashtag in this way, though it’s arguably the most mainstream so far. Previously, there have been:

#genius for the latest series of Genius, which used it to source contributions to the programme


#laterjools for Later with Jools Holland, which also displayed selected tweets which used that hashtag on their site. Chris Kimber wrote about the thinking behind it, and some feedback, on the BBC Music Blog back in May


And the very first was #bbcrevolution for Virtual Revolution


What all of these have in common is that they appeared silently, with no voice-over or obvious call to action.

It’s a secret bat-signal. A neat solution to a tricky editorial problem.

  • It works for all microblogging services, and doesn’t give undue prominence to Twitter.
  • People who recognise it as a bit of online grammar will know what to do with it, and it makes them feel like an insider…
  • …while coming just at the end of the credits it’s easily ignored by people who don’t.
  • It doesn’t jar. The visual appearance is tailored to suit the programme, using a typeface which matches the titles etc.
  • It’s not about gaining followers; it’s authentically about pointing to the conversation…
  • …but it’s also a conversation that the BBC is part of. People will spot that we’re joining in too (e.g. @bbcGenius is an active part of the conversations around #genius, @bbcHIGNFY uses the #bbcHIGNFY tag, etc).

You’ll also see the same hashtags appearing on the BBC’s Programmes pages too, in the new ‘Buzz’ pages which link to the online conversations around those programmes. e.g. the buzz page for HIGNFY, linked from a new module on the programme page,

The ‘hashtag bat signal’ and the programmes page are not the only way of introducing the idea of a hashtag for the programme (and there are some examples of specific calls to action in programmes which involve hashtags: #askRhod, #bbcFilm2010 etc) but it is an elegant one.

Disclaimer: I’m not exactly a neutral observer here. As always, these are just my thoughts and opinions rather than any sort of official BBC line.

8 replies on “Hashtags on programmes – It’s the bat signal!”

  1. I actually cringed when I saw the have I… one appear. It just seemed out of place and cheesy. Plus I didn’t like tag itself.

    In contrast I thought the askrod tag and the genius tags worked well and fitted more comfortably into the programme.

  2. The bbcHIGNFY tag looks cheesy because it seems forced. One feels that if the show is making a big enough impact people will tweet about it anyway. They’ll use an appropriate tag of their own invention and it would probably be something simpler, not bbcHIGNFY. Is the BBC bit really necessary? Why not #bbcgenius? It feels like something’s awry – either make every show a #bbc tag or make none of them it.

  3. Thanks for your comments. It’s worth noting that at this early stage it’s pretty much experimentation that you’re seeing here. The vast majority of programmes, and even programmes which do have an active Twitter presence, rightly don’t attempt to force it. Lots of programmes get enormous amounts tweets about them without the ‘bat signal’ hashtag, and putting a hashtag on screen isn’t the only way of reflecting that a programme is paying attention to what people are saying about it. Last week I shared some thoughts about the Apprentice and Twitter which falls into that category.

    While I’m a huge fan of consistency I doubt there will ever be one rule for everything here. I think a little early experimentation into what works and what doesn’t is no bad thing. Length, readability, memorability and what looks and feels right will all make a difference. I’m pretty sure if we mandated that every hashtag had to start with ‘bbc’ that would be the wrong call. (And I say that having pushed hard for ‘bbcrevolution’ over ‘vr’ or ‘bbcdigrev’ or ‘virtualrevolition’ or ‘revolution’ or any of the other alternatives that were on the table last year. I’m still not sure it’ll always be obvious what’s the right thing to do. That’s what makes it fun.)

    A hard and fast rule would probably lead to just as much negative feedback, not to mention some undesirable results; imagine the uproar if Untouchable were to have used #bbcuntouchable. :-)

  4. It was interesting to see that Film 2010 had an official hashtag (#bbcfilm2010) but that lots of people were using the more natural #film2010. I would say that for most consumers in most instances the addition of the parent brand (in this case BBC) to the hashtag feels overly intrusive.

    There’s probably an interesting comparison to be made between the feedback on each of the two channels – I would guess that the unofficial one was way more hostile – but it would take someone smarter than me to do that analysis.

  5. Huh, really interesting to note people’s responses above. TBH, I pushed for #bbcgenius as a tag rather than simply #genius – and in fact before the show aired we were using #bbcgenius as a hashtag (but it was never really used particularly widely as people simply @’d us – and I think there’s something less workable in the idea of having a hashtag that’s the same as the twitter name, it looks inelegant somehow…)

    Just #genius is much more natural, looks better etc. but we do get a lot of interference with people simply hashtagging non Genius-with-Dave-Gorman comments about their lives, cool things they’ve seen etc. (But in that sense it does still feel a bit like a batsignal – the enlightened know what it means!)

    Saying all that – with Genius we had an already established sense of community and they really embraced the new hashtag and responding to the show live during TX. Having a more suble call to action works in that respect as well – so that your online fans (who were into it before it was “cool” :D) don’t suddenly feel inundated by TV johnny-come-latelys…

  6. Tobias: I notice that in the newest series (and since I left the BBC) they’ve changed it from bbcHIGNFY to just HIGNFY. I like it more this way too now.

Comments are closed.