#YoureDoingItWrong: How To Hashtag The Right Way

It feels like you can’t watch a commercial this year without seeing a hashtag splashed across the screen at the end of the ad. Hashtags are everywhere, being referenced in ads making fun of Millennials and being thrown out by nearly every brand with a campaign, whether or not it makes much sense. Hashtags are meant to create and foster conversations, and unite people in a joint, sometimes fun, sometimes meaningful, digital experience. But most brand hashtags aren’t cutting it.

This year, hashtags were mentioned in 57% of Super Bowl ads, but only five brands’ hashtags had more than 10K mentions during and after the game. Some of the hashtags being tagged onto the end of commercials feel more like afterthoughts, surface attempts to jump on a trend, than actual engagement efforts.

Throwing a “#” in front of a slogan is fine, but isn’t likely to inspire involvement, which means less buzz, consumer interaction, and fewer opportunities for young consumers to actually remember the campaign. Rewards are one easy way to help get a hashtag used, but they aren’t the only way to make a hashtag campaign successful. Here are four other things to keep in mind to avoid hashtag abuse and become hashtag relevant:

1. Amplify their creativity.

Many of the greatest hashtag trends have been all about displaying the users’ creativity. One easy way to encourage and reward creative participation is to amplify it. Seamless launched a campaign after the 2014 Oscar nominations, starting the hashtag #OscarNomNoms by sharing spoof posters for nominees with titles of the films changed to be food related, such as “Herb” and “Gravitea.” When the twitterverse began to chime in with their own suggestions, Seamless created posters for some and retweeted with the appropriate artwork.

2. Bring them back for more.

A hashtag campaign can be a great call for participation, but because of the fleeting nature of topics on social media, even those that catch on aren’t likely to stick around for long. In anticipation of the fourth season of “Game of Thrones,” HBO decided to celebrate something that the show is famous for: death. Using the hashtag #BeautifulDeath, the brand is sharing a “death-by-death countdown” on their Twitter feed, posting original artwork that documents every death that has occurred in the series so far. A new piece is posted each day, so there is a new reason to share the tweets and spread the hashtag on a daily basis. 

3. Think about what they’re already doing.

The most popular organic hashtags amplify moments that are happening in users’ lives (#fromwhereistand), or perfectly express the way they are feeling (#FML). A hashtag that is only useful in promoting a brand won’t consistently be pulled into their conversations. Charmin managed to find a way to integrate their campaign into the lives of their followers (and beyond) by playing off a behavior they knew was already taking place: social media use in the bathroom. Their hashtag #TweetFromTheSeat has become wildly popular, partly thanks to the fact that 40% of young adults say they are using Twitter while on the toilet. (At least, 40% will admit to it.) 

4. Play along.

Because this generation is more likely to engage with organic hashtags than branded ones, it’s important for social media users to play along with established and developing trends rather than constantly pitch their own agenda. The #RejectedCandyHearts trend that took over Twitter leading up to Valentine’s Day this year fed into Millennials’ desire to become a part of the constantly changing social conversation (and to get a few laughs). Rather than attempting to create their own Valentine's Day hashtags, brands like Hulu and NBC joined in on the joke, tweeting out rejected candy heart concepts that played off their own brands while participating in the larger conversation.

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