‘SHNUPS’: A Light in the Hashtag Jungle?

By Hanna Valerie Wolf

The German start-up SHNUPS aims to provide an overview of trending hashtags across social media platforms – an attractive idea not only for journalists, but also for Twitter-sceptics. Its success, however, will depend on its ability to engage a larger community of social media savvy contributors.

We’ve all seen them: these hip hashtags we would like to include into our Twitter posts to appear up-to-date. The problem: With some hashtags, we don’t quite know what’s the story behind them. Too busy to engage in complicated research on the origin of these hashtags, we often end up simply not using them. After all, what could be worse than public ridicule on Facebook or Twitter for misusing a hashtag? Even major international brands such as Burger King can tell you a thing or two about hashtag campaigns gone wrong due to insufficient previous research.

This is where the idea of the German start-up SHNUPS comes in. Founded in 2015 by a computer scientist and two industrial engineers, the aggregator platform aims to facilitate this research by providing an overview of selected trending hashtags as well as background information about their origin and purpose. In addition, the best tweets, photos and videos, as well as news articles are collected on the website and added to the respective hashtags.

The three ambitious founders of the hashtag filter SHNUPS: Ralf Gilde, Alexander Swetlow and Jan König.
The three ambitious founders: Ralf Gilde, Alexander Swetlow and Jan König. Source: shnups.com/presse

While so far these featured hashtags are hand-picked by the SHNUPS team, it’s the community that collects relevant content from other social media channels. The community members can then upvote their favourite content, which results in a Pinterest-like display that filters and brings together the most relevant content from all major social media channels.

Currently, the selected hashtags still largely address a German audience, even though powerful international trends are covered as well, such as the response to the Paris attacks #JeSuisEnTerrasse. Besides social protest hashtags such as these, SHNUPS also includes merely entertaining trends such as #MaRihanna or – one of the founders’ current favourites – #DoItLikeDeMaiziere, which mocks the German Home Secretary and his rather clumsy reaction to the terror threat in Germany.

Aggregation: The Key to Success?

Aggregation as a phenomenon is not new – it is rather a characteristic of the digital media. In fact, Twitter and Facebook themselves have built-in aggregation features that enable their users to see all the content that mentions a certain hashtag. Yet, Jan König, one of SHNUPS’s co-founders, observes that “the content users get to see on a single platform like Twitter is never complete. It’s limited to what is distributed via this one channel but leaves out the content on Facebook or Instagram”.  

Also, according to the three founders, a major problem is that a lot of the content on the major social media channels is not visible to the public, but accessible to registered users only. “This excludes those people who are interested in what is going on on social media, but do not want to set up an account due to privacy or other concerns”, explains König.

This results in two target groups which at first glance appear paradoxical: On the one hand, a concise overview of trending hashtags could be interesting for media professionals such as journalists, who want to save time in their research. On the other hand, it also provides an opportunity for the less media-savvy, but nonetheless interested general audience, which includes those reluctant to give away personal data to giant corporations such as Facebook.

A Promising Business Model

Currently, the website is still a beta-version and the community limited to very few users, a problem that the founders acknowledge as well. Without an active, social media savvy community that regularly contributes content to the site, it will be difficult to attract a large number of people considering the countless competing aggregator sites. Yet, the founders have high ambitions and are convinced that they will continue to find investors. “We have received inquiries by big companies with regards to media monitoring, sponsored hashtags and social media campaigns”, says König, which could form the basis for a successful business model.

Besides building their website, future plans of the young entrepreneurs include an English version of the website and an app that would facilitate the sharing of social media content with SHNUPS. Currently, however, their priority is building up a strong community and securing investors from spring 2016 onwards.

The Rise of Hashtags

Understanding hashtags and using them appropriately has become an integral part of everyday life for many people (even though ‘appropriateness’ is up for debate, as the use of the popular hashtag #netflixandchill proves). A hashtag filter like SHNUPS could therefore provide a useful tool not to lose track of what is trending. It will, however, need to grow immensely in order to have a tangible impact on the way journalists and other people gather their information.