How to Handle The #Hashtag

Working in PR means that I have, inevitably, started to view certain aspects of the world a little differently. Gone are the days of passive consumption, I now find myself looking upon adverts, tweets, campaigns and events through a more critical eye – a PR and marketing eye.

And one of the things that I can’t stand being used thoughtlessly is this – the hashtag.

You know the type. The one that is casually positioned at the end of a advert/poster/tweet with no clear purpose or direction. The one whose thought process behind it has amounted to little more than “What would make this seem more modern and edgy? I know, a hashtag!”

The most irritating part? When used properly, hashtags can be hugely beneficial to your business. They can help build your brand, raise awareness and promote user-engagement on social media all at the same time.

Don’t believe me? Well a great example of a successful hashtag ad campaign is by the mobile network company Three. Its #HolidaySpam campaign* first appeared on a TV advertisement, and encouraged users to share their holiday images on social media using the hashtag. It acted as a user-generated way of promoting the company’s introduction of free calls, texts and data for existing customers when they travelled abroad.

Similarly Cadbury’s #FreeTheJoy campaign has been used effectively on both television adverts and its social media accounts alike. The hashtag acts as a playful tagline for the company, and is regularly used in competition posts as a condition for entry; effectively raising brand awareness through user-sharing.

The good news is you can relax. Even the big brands with their 6 figure marketing budgets can sometimes get it wrong. Take McDonalds for example. Its #McDStories hashtag** was created to promote the brand, and generate positive stories from users in response. Instead it turned into a backlash of satirical comments from unhappy customers and even ex-employees on social media, one of the most powerful reputational tools there is.

The recipe for success is simple- know what you want to achieve. If brand-awareness is the name of the game, run a competition making a branded hashtag a condition of entry. If you’re pushing for hype around a specific event, make sure all social media posts surrounding it are accompanied by a short, snappy hashtag that is relevant to the event.

Though it may be small, it sure is mighty. Don’t under-estimate the power of that little symbol.

Get creative, and see what the #hashtag can do for you.

*http://www.forfront.com/blog/sorryforholidayspam/

**http://www.getspokal.com/read-with-caution-15-of-the-absolute-worst-marketing-campaigns-from-2014/

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