Wikipedia says that the @ was around in the 1500s, and that it first appeared on English typewriters in the late 1800s, while the # symbol (also known as the pound or number sign) was being used in the nineteenth century, all of which makes how we use them today seem pretty damn comical. The @ and # signs have taken on a whole different meaning over the last few years, both having gone from being legitimate symbols in the pre-internet age to now being employed as shortcuts and marketing tools on social media platforms, including here on Pinkbike. I don't take issue with that, and I'm not even going to gripe about the inane hashtags that people come up with (me included), but there's always those out there who take things a step or three too far.
Not to go all Sir David Attenborough on you, but I've broken the offenders into three distinct groups that each use the @ and # keys in different and equally irritable ways.
The Sponsored Pro
Their typical Facebook or Instagram post is something along the lines of "My @XXXXX tires really found traction today, and my @XXXXX bike felt SO FAST. So happy with my race and CAN'T WAIT for the next round!!!!!" Add or subtract exclamation points and capitalization as you see fit. Sure, it's not as nauseating as the typical Supercross podium speech where they seem to thank everyone from their goggle sponsor to their cousin's neighbor's mailman for helping them get third in a last chance qualifier race, but it's often not too far off. Firstly, who out there actually believes that so and so won because of his or her bike? If you do, I've got news for you: the rider won because they trained their ass off, has a bucket loads of talent, and posses enough drive to make a worker bee look like a lazy SOB.
Yes, a rider's sponsors can provide the necessary time, equipment and money that's required, and there's nothing wrong with thanking them for that, but so many professionals take about three giant leaps over the line that divides tactful and tasteless when it comes to social media.
NEWS FLASH: we know who you're sponsored by because we can clearly see the logos in the other twelve thousand photos you've put up, so I'd suggest ditching the tags and giving the fan some insight into the race, your training or anything else that doesn't involve who gave you free stuff. People want an insight into your life and to see photos of you doing whatever it is that you do, so give them that instead of a list of who signs your paychecks.
Many high-profile sports actually have a certain number of "call outs" written into an athletes contract that guarantee a specific number of mentions on the podium or in social medial realms, and mountain biking is no different. It isn't widely discussed, but don't be surprised if your favourite racer or rider has promised to not just be active on social media, but to actually tag certain sponsors. Yes, I get that companies see the value in that, but tagging fifteen of their sponsors in a post looks like shit, makes it hard to take the rider serious, and hopefully isn't convincing anyone to buy anything. The Imprudent Industry Person
This one is a bit tricky because there is some legitimate thinking here, but I feel like it's one that some people cross a little too often. Yes, there's very good reasons for media outlets to tag companies in their posts (we do it all the time), but it's one thing for a media outlet or author to share links promoting a piece of content on their website or in their magazine, but I always feel a little uncomfortable when I see my peers tagging companies on their personal social media pages. Here's an example: last year, a company requested that I use a very specific hashtag when talking about their new bike on social media, which definitely crossed that aforementioned line, at least in my mind. More than a few of my counterparts didn't see any issue, though, and made numerous posts on their personal Facebook feeds using the exact hashtag that was specified, all without seeing that they were effectively doing marketing work for said company.
Look, I'm not trying to sound like my horse's legs are the longest around, and I'm well aware that my peers have taken issue with things I've done in the past, but this one is just so blatantly strange to me. Hello, you don't work in their marketing department, do you? Share photos of relevant things, ie new products or whatever, and obviously tag as you see fit, but why you'd actively market their product is lost on me. It isn't just tech editors who are guilty of this, though, and it's something that some of the staff here at Pinkbike have also done in the past - everyone has been guilty of this at one point or another - but we should all make an effort to leave the marketing to the marketing people.
I've been asked multiple times why I no longer tag companies when making posts on my personal social media pages (full disclosure: I certainly have in the past) and it's because it isn't my job to do their marketing, and unless you are working in the marketing department of the company that's responsible for whatever product you're posting, I believe that you should think the same. The Average Rider and Amateur Racer
While Joe Blow might not be thanking their sugary drink sponsor for helping them stand on the podium, they can be just as indiscreet when it comes to trying to perform digital fellatio on companies through their social media pages. Maybe it's wanting to feel like we're part of the club, or possibly because we like to show everyone whatever it is we've just worked our asses off to afford, but there's certainly no shortage of regular people tagging companies despite those very same people having bought their goods at or near full tick. Now, it's none of my business what anyone does, but doesn't it seem weird to pay for an item and then go about and do marketing for them? That trend speaks volumes about not just cyclists, but us as humans, and it's one that people much smarter than myself have written books about. You could compare it to paying more for an item of clothing that has a popular or desired logo on it, which is something that we've all done, even if we don't actually care about the damn logo, but I think it's a little different.
There's something about tagging a company and praising them or their product with a bunch of silly hashtags that just seems wrong. Sure, you may be happy with whatever it is that you've bought or the service that you paid for, but using your Facebook or Instagram page as a realtime megaphone to spread the word isn't actually doing anything besides helping said company with their guerrilla marketing campaign. The worst part, though, is that so many of us (including me) do exactly that without actually knowing it - we're actively marketing these products without being aware of what we're doing.
Social media is a pretty neat thing that allows us to share our lives and to be exposed to all sorts of interesting stuff. It lets us stay in touch with friends, creep on people we like (or dislike), and it makes the world smaller, for better or worse. It's also just one more place where we can be inundated with slogans and advertising, which is something that, as much as I'm bitching and moaning about it, I realize won't ever change. We don't all have to take an active role in that, though, even if most of us could be slotted into one of the three categories I talked about at one point or another. There's absolutely nothing wrong with sharing your thoughts when you're happy or unsatisfied with a product or service, and doing so can make us feel important and like we're part of something. That said, we should be asking ourselves what we're accomplishing by tagging companies like we so often do, and if that's something that we actually want to be a part of.