Hashtags 101

If you have ever used social media, you have most likely seen the “hashtag.”

hash·tag /ˈhaSHtag / noun: (On social media sites such as Twitter) a word or phrase preceded by a hash or pound sign (#) and used to identify messages on a specific topic.

In 2009, the hashtag impacted society like an atom bomb, quickly changing the course of the modern language. Ever since Twitter strung together the disconnect of key words with the hashtag, people have been able to easily search for key words or phrases that would open up connections to other relating articles or tweets. People’s thoughts and opinions were soon connected into a web of hashtags

  • Hashtags can stand alone as their own sentence: #TGIF (thank God it’s Friday)
  • Hashtags can also be used to suggest emotion: #lol (laughing out loud)
  • Or sarcasm and humor: #sorrynotsorry

The symbol became so widely used, that in 2012 the American Dialect Society declared it Word of the Year. It became so overused by nearly everyone that it was officially declared comic (well, not officially…just satirized perfectly by Jimmy Fallon and his pal Justin Timberlake).

The hashtag has become so immersed in our culture that even brides make it their top priority to create the perfect wedding hashtag (i.e. #WeSaidIDoOnJune2, #SallyandSamTietheKnot). A personalized hashtag creates a folder of photos and updates about the topic or event.
Companies have also caught wind of the hashtag. It has quickly become a popular marketing tool and is now present in various media outlets. Television shows will hashtag character names, movies will hashtag titles and events, and restaurants will hashtag special offerings. The symbol can stand as a marketing/branding/PR technique to promote campaigns while also allowing followers to interact with the company by posting pictures or voicing their opinion. And while this phenomenon first took place on Twitter, other platforms like Facebook and Instagram have joined the hashtag conversation as well.

Greenville, SC, used hashtags as the cornerstone of their plan to elevate the perception of Greenville and highlight recent changes that have been made to the city. By encouraging the use of the hashtag #YeahThatGreenville in partnership with a website of the same name, they took the combined forces of Greenville fans and residents to spread the word that Greenville is hip, young, cool and the place that everyone wants to be.

Yeah That Greenville

Client Take-Away

If you’re going to jump on the #hashtagbandwagon, it is essential to first understand your strategy: what do you want to accomplish, why, and who will use it? Once you nail that down (and hey, we can help you with that), you’ll want to choose an appropriate hashtag to promote your product or event. In the past, hashtags were limited to one platform. Today, you can direct your promotion to the platform most occupied by your clients or target market (there’s that strategy thing again).

Basic Stuff:

It is important to create a phrase that is easy to read and to the point. The pound sign turns any word or group of words that directly follows it into a searchable link. Avoid endless hashtags that may be tons of fun for you and your friends, but too hard to manage for a quick at-a-glance promo. When you go for succinct and to the point, you create a win-win for you and your target audience:

  • Your clients can easily use your promo
  • You can easily track progress and if needed, adjust for the next time

Cautionary Tale:

Once the hashtag is created and out there, there is no way to filter or control what people post. Companies have to deal with the risk factor of receiving negative feedback publicly. Ideally, your company has nothing to worry about, but even in the best of cases, there’s always the chance. We actually had this discussion back in 2012 – check it out and then remind yourself of these important tips:

  • LMGTFY  – no, seriously. Google your hashtag first. Do a search. Are other people using it and more importantly, are they using it in a less than savory way that could get your business mixed up in something you’d rather not be associated with? #Shamrocking, anyone?
  • Make fun of it. Those of you with children might be familiar with this one. In choosing a baby name, you inevitably have to go through the potential nicknames that your little bundle of joy may endure in middle and high school. If it’s going to be painful, don’t do it.
  • Understand your audience. Are they hashtag connoisseurs? Do they know what to do with it? If not, you might need to try a different outreach approach OR begin the methodical practice of education and training to get them excited. Nothing says #ilovehashtags like a great deal on a product.
  • Be nimble and responsive. If your campaign does go off the rails, quickly address it. Pull it if you need to and then quickly combat the negative with positive relations: brand ambassadors, targeted outreach.

Here’s to a successful campaign, #hashtags and all. If we can be of service, let us know!

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