The Art Of The Hashtag for Brands


I was reading this morning Mashable’s hilarious post about “Hashtags Gone Wrong”. While these are the most egregious (and hilarious cases) of poor planning, hashtag development doesn’t really get the same forethought as say, headline development, to the great detriment of the brand.

Although I was an early Twitter user, I accidently stumbled upon the first usage of hashtags in 2007 following #sandiegofire and have developed and used them frequently both personally and for brands with which I work. In my experience though, as I’ve found in so much of social media, the thinking that goes into developing hashtags has about as much relevance to strategic branding as taking the lunch order.

Yet another example of how social media tends to be developed around tactics without a thought about strategy in advance. (And we wonder why brands struggle with determining ROI?)

So, let’s discuss hashtags- what they are for and how we can use them successfully.

Hashtags serve two purposes

1)      As a tag or search term. A hashtag inserted into a post on any number of social media platforms becomes a “search term”. Users can “search” the hashtag to find similar posts.

I know, your initial thought is: great, I’ll think of a really unique hashtag and then everyone can find my tweets easily. Uh – magical thinking. The reverse is actually true. Using a hashtag that people are already searching means your tweets are more likely to be seen. Too many brands think that creating a unique hashtag for each promotion – that matches the ad headline, and the POP and the PR campaign is the way to go. Better to develop one hashtag that the brand can use all year and over time becomes associated with the brand.  Savvy brands use popular hashtags started by others to get your brand noticed when tweeps search a popular subject such as #Thanksgiving or #Fashionweek

2)      As a side comment. A hashtag can also be used to express a corollary idea.  This usage probably came about because of the Twitter 144 character limit. For example, the hashtag #fail is generally used instead of writing, “that didn’t work out to well!” or “what was I thinking?”. Using too many hashtags in each post though, just ends up making the post difficult to read and confusing.

To use hashstags effectively managers need to both understand the nuances of the various social media platforms and the brand essence…and be involved with the brand and the platform on a daily basis. Too often hashtags are created by those in the creative department with little input from those working the social media platforms. Community managers too frequently work on multiple brands and have the platform knowledge, but not always be privy to upper level management brand messaging, again missing the mark on truly great hashtags.

Creating great hashtags that speak to the brand’s message while avoiding hijacking therefore seems easy, no? Not really. The devil is in the details…and nuances and understanding the, sometimes perverse mind of each platforms’ users. But, that’s another blog post!

headshot newMaryanne Conlin is CEO of RedRopes Marketing, a consulting firm focused on green and sustainable industries, fresh produce, food, Hispanic marketing and marketing to Moms. See her at ExpoEast Natural Foods Expo in Baltimore, speaking on Social Media for Socially Conscious Brands, September 27, 2013 Connect with her on Twitter @maryanneconlin

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