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You’re Using Hashtags Incorrectly. Fix It.

April 14, 2017

For an agency that deals so much in social media currency, we’re the first to tell you that most hashtags are bullshit. That’s not because hashtags don’t have some value. It’s not that they can’t or don’t work in a campaign that stretches from social media through to IRL (in real life). It’s because that don’t inherently have that value. A hashtag is nothing on its own and counterproductive when used inefficiently and without an overarching strategy.

Let’s go on a journey on how to set up and use hashtags.

explaining a complicated concept

Step 1: Come up with a versatile hashtag.

Hashtags rarely catch on or reach their full potential quickly. In my experience, it can take 2 months before hashtags can really mature into a life of their own. That’s still only true if you have a campaign that fully supports the hashtag. We’ll dive deeper into that point later though. The essential thing to remember is that this hashtag will need to be versatile enough to exist beyond the next 3 months. If whatever pun you came up with can’t do that, you’re dooming it to fail. The best hashtag and hashtag campaigns are incredibly diverse and allow for creativity both from the brand and the users. Spend some time thinking

The best hashtag and hashtag campaigns are incredibly diverse and allow for creativity both from the brand and the users. Spend some time thinking through all of the crazy ways that you can use the hashtag. Even if you never do, the ability to come up with those will speak volumes to its lasting power.

Step 2: Give people a reason to use it.

The first creative director that I ever worked under gave me some of the best advice that I’ve ever received. He said:

When you’re building a campaign, only one question really matters. Why the fuck do they care? What’s in it for them?

He had a good point. Why commit money to any campaign that doesn’t provide value to your customers or users? You shouldn’t. So, when you start a new hashtag, you need to ask yourself the most important question. Why would anyone use this hashtag?

The point is that you have to give value. In a campaign that was before its time, Edge Shave Gel had a #SoIrritating campaign where they surprise gifted people tons of prizes. People used the hashtag because they knew that they could be surprise gifted. The show @midnight dominates Twitter every night with #HashtagWars with the nugget that people might become twitter-famous and get featured on TV for their cleverness.

One point that you should remember. You don’t have to give them money. MMGY Global (one of my former employers) had a study on millennial loyalty years ago that confirmed what we all suspected. People will take non-monetary love as value for engaging with a brand.

Step 3: Engage with EVERYBODY that uses your hashtag.

This is simple. If you want people to use the hashtag, prove that you’re paying attention. That’s as simple as throwing some search queries into your Hootsuite dashboard and liking everything that you see that isn’t spamming. Want to do that but feel extra lazy, never forget that there’s a zap for that.

The point is that a hashtag campaign has to be a bit of a Pavlov’s Dog situation. You must condition them to use the hashtag. If you’re working on Instagram, make sure to have other search queries running and find ways to insert the hashtag into comments. If they see you using it and you engaging when they use it, you can condition your community to use it.

tatum you look pretty

Step 4: Make sure that it’s everywhere.

If there is a touchpoint for your brand and the customer, make sure that hashtag finds its way there. If you’re a hotel, put it on your room key. If you sell shoes, put it on your bag. You need to believe in your hashtag and let it shine. If you can’t find a place to put the hashtag, I think that you need to return to Step 1. The best hashtags are integrated into every aspect of your campaign and live your brand.

Step 5: Get famous people to use it.

Influencer marketing has been a hot topic for years. Going back to when I was working with Klout, giving them feedback on the scoring algorithm, marketers have wondered the true value of social currency and how to measure what makes someone truly influential. When it comes to driving direct conversions, I implore you to go with a rich scoring system. Within each industry that I’ve worked, I have developed my own scorecard on how I measure potential impact for my clients.

When it comes to getting a hashtag out there, I would suggest being a bit more liberal with whom you engage. You’re simply looking to seed it within the tastemaker community. That way, when people do click on it, they see a gallery of images with which they would want to find themselves.

I would give you two additional pieces of advice on this one. Choose influencers with impact on each of the networks you hope to gain traction. If you do pay for mentions, negotiate how they use the hashtag. Make sure that it is in the first line of text for impact. You don’t want to lose your hashtag among of see of ‘please find my picture’ tags.

Once you get the hashtag out there via influencers, average people with above average skills will jump on the bandwagon. Check out the hashtag #contiki on Instagram and see what can happen when you seed and encourage correctly.

instagram contiki hashtag feed


Step 6: Track it.

You’d be surprised how many people measure hashtag effectiveness by, “I’ve seen it a lot recently.” Don’t be that marketer. Be the one that set up sophisticated tracking and consistently reported on it. You’re looking for users, reach, frequency, and influence here. Every hashtag should open up a library of curated content that matches up with your brand in which, people want to go. You are who associates with you and a hashtag library of awesomeness will make you guilty of badassery by association any day.

Some of the tools that I endorse for measurement are: Simply Measured, Ink361, Keyhole, and Talkwalker. They all have their pluses and minuses. You can get some free analytics from a few as well.

Step 7: Keep it fresh.

No matter how cool of an idea you start with, it will get old. Keep your hashtag fresh. Use it in new ways and pair it with new activations. Nobody makes your brand’s rules but you. If you’re honest with who you’re brand is and engage with your community, you won’t lose many followers. You’ll only keep them engaged and garner fresh eyes. Very few things are great when they are tested over time. Keep you and your brand fresh with your versatile and well-tracked hashtag.