Hashtags experienced a rapid rise followed by a steep decline in popularity as a method of promoting content on social media. They began almost by accident in 2007 as a way to categorize content and make it easily searchable. Along the way, they became a self-parody; after seeing #Yolo, #Blessed or #ForTheWin a few too many times, users began rolling their eyes and labeling hashtags uncool, the kiss of death in youth marketing. But a funny thing happened recently: Teens and young adults brought back the hashtag.
According to the Los Angeles Times, several trends fuel the unlikely resurrection of the long-loathed hashtag. The first is the rise of TikTok. With millions of videos posted to that platform each day, many in response to a specific challenge, song or dance craze, a hashtag is essential to categorizing content.
The second is the hashtag’s unmatched ability to signal-boost across an ever-cluttered social media landscape. Content creators have seen hashtagged videos go viral within hours, and unknowns have suddenly found millions of followers. Without using hashtags, Britney in Sioux Falls is never going to go from 10 followers to 10 million with her Olivia Rodrigo homage. Creators take note as artists like Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X go from posting content in their bedrooms to becoming A-list stars thanks to their viral videos, and they want a shot at achieving that same level of fame.
Last but not least, young content creators are using hashtags again because they can be highly lucrative. According to the LA Times article, an A-list TikToker with millions of followers can earn up to $100K from a brand by posting their promoted or sponsored hashtag. A six-figure payout for one hashtag? #CountMeIn!
How can brands best use hashtags to connect with their youngest followers?
*Tap into functional needs. Social media users often search hashtags to find specific
information to make their lives better. Many of the searches are seasonal or topical, such as #promdress, #classof2021 or #dormroom. So if you’re marketing, say, formalwear, presents for grads
or all the housewares young adults might need to form their first household, tap into these hashtags. And strike the right balance between the general and specific: #formalwear is probably too vague,
*Avoid the cliched. The hashtags used a decade ago by influencers hyping their lifestyles are now seen as tired and hackneyed, and don’t provide any immediate benefit to users. So avoid #Yolo, #Blessed and the like. At best, they make the brand sound dated, and at worst, they might sound exclusionary, elitist or as though you’re “flexing.” So keep it specific, seasonal, topical, practical and relatable.
*Use caution, but learn to let go. Brands should also take care to use “safe” hashtags such as #spookyszn for Halloween, and research any alternatives very carefully to ensure that they aren’t offensive, derivative of another brand, or potentially harmful. Search that hashtag to get a feel for the type of content already associated with it, and make sure that it fits your brand lens. But part of putting a hashtag into the world, especially on TikTok, is knowing that users will do a lot with it, some good, and some not. So “learn to let go” if you see a few isolated creators linking the hashtag to off-brand content, or if the Internet decides to take the hashtag in a totally different direction. In an attention economy, it’s still potentially a win.
By following these best practices, brands ensure that they #NailIt with their hashtags, instead of becoming a #DadJoke on social media.