We’ve been dancing around this topic for a while, so I’m going to come right out and say it: Hashtags are the new URL. Jack Dorsey & co. have said it since 2011, but nobody’s paid much attention. Now it’s time for marketers to face the music or get left behind.
Over the past few years, hashtags have stolen the spotlight, online and off. In 2011, Audi’s #ProgressIs was the first hashtag to appear in a Super Bowl commercial. 2012 brought us Nike+’s inspiring #MakeItCount. At the end of Kmart’s recent “Ship My Pants” ad, they provided a URL (kmart.com) and a hashtag (#shipmypants). Which one did you look up?
Offline, hashtags have even made their mark on the English language. In September 2013, Jimmy Fallon tapped into this phenomenon by creating a sketch with Justin Timberlake parodying the overuse of hashtags in our world today, specifically by Millennials. Not only has it received over 21 million views to date, it shows us that as ridiculous as it may be, hashtags are changing the way we communicate with each other and the way we craft marketing strategies.
This may have English teachers across the country shaking their heads, but the fact of the matter is that hashtags are not going anywhere.
Now that hashtags are a standardized Internet format, they’re just as easy to remember as a URL, if not easier. And they’re widely used – earlier this year RadiumOne found that 58% of social media users regularly use hashtags. The study also showed that 42% of those users click on hashtags in posts to explore new content.
But where hashtags really win is consumer engagement, especially with Millennials. Hashtags don’t just push information at consumers as websites do, they create conversations. They give users a say, too – for better or for worse. (#McDStories, anyone?)
With the immense amount of information at Millennials’ fingertips each day, they have grown wise to most marketing efforts. Your best bet is to be honest and spark their curiosity with a hashtag that’s entertaining, relevant and engaging and leads to true conversation. By only using a URL, you miss the opportunity to engage Millennials and to get earned impressions for your brand as they share with their social networks.
Edelman found that eight out of ten Millennials will take action for a brand they trust. Hashtag campaigns give Millennials an immediate outlet for their opinions and make the jump from consumer to influencer that much easier. In a recent poll by Harris Interactive reported by eMarketer, nearly 70% of 18-34 year old social media users surveyed were at least somewhat likely to make a purchase after seeing a friend’s post. Far higher than any other generation. Meaning that encouraging hashtag use by your loyal Millennials not only leads to engagement but to purchase.
Hashtags have a lot going for them. They’re shorter, simpler and easier to remember. They’re dynamic and engaging. But most importantly, they direct consumers to have conversations about your brand. Welcome to the era of the hashtag.