Hashtags have evolved beyond simple online taxonomy and have become a language all their own. Still, the most effective use of the hashtag has become the organization they provide online: tracking and participating in discussions on social media.
While some hashtags — like #BlackLivesMatter and #IStandWithAhmed — are born organically from social and cultural flashpoints, brands have to take a more strategic approach to using hashtags in their social media campaigns.
According to Justin Garrity, president of social media management platform Postano, hashtags have become a standard call to action in advertising campaigns.
When you look at the end of a TV commercial or print ad, you often see a hashtag. I think brands are looking forward to that conversation and they want to make sure people get involved.
Indeed, hashtags can be particularly useful for brands that want to:
- spark and track a conversation online
- tune into and capitalize on a timely and relevant conversation already taking place, or
- create a call to action that integrates offline and online campaigns
The key is to be deliberate about your intent, while also being part of something organic. Here are a few Dos and Don’ts for marketers to remember when using hashtags.
DO: Consider the channel
While most social platforms enable the use of hashtags, Postano said that Twitter, Instagram and Vine are the networks where hashtags are most searchable. Facebook has been working to make hashtags more useful, but in general, hashtag search results only include public posts and posts from your friends list.
DO: Promote in marketing materials
As noted earlier, hashtags can be a great way to create integrated campaigns. However, the integration won’t happen if you fail to include the hashtags in commercials, print ads and other marketing materials.
DO: Engage with the community
Social media is about conversation, not just promotion. Hashtags help pull social media users into a conversation with the brand and vice versa. Garrity says to have a plan to be part of that conversation and promote user-generated content with permission.
DON’T: Expect hashtags to do all the work
Without a strong concept, your hashtag won’t go anywhere. Garrity pointed to the National Parks #findyourpark promotion as an example of a simple campaign that has resulted in lots of beautiful user-generated photography. But the concept, celebrating 100 years of the National Parks service, is strong and the driving force behind the success of the campaign.
DON’T: Over emphasize the brand name
If the hashtag is smart and natural, you don’t need to wedge the brand name in for people to make the connection. As long as the brand promotes the hashtag and it resonates with the target audience, consumers will likely make the connection naturally.
DON’T: Jump in without relevance
According to Benjamin Hordell, founding partner at DXagency, if you’re trying to get in on a conversation already taking place, relevance is key. Hordell says to look for seasonal, topical or appropriate conversation that has relevance and ride the hashtags already being used.
DON’T: Over think it
Both Garrity and Hordell said hashtags should be simple and limited to two or three word phrase that captures the essence of the campaign. Hordell warned against getting too cutesy:
If someone has something to say and it comes at the expense of the hashtag, so be it. In order to maintain the use of the hashtag, you’re going to want to keep it short and sweet.
Readers: What other tips would you add?