Love them or hate them, despite many who might wish to the contrary, hashtag marketing isn’t going away any time soon.
But that doesn’t mean you can use them haphazardly or without strategy.
Just like selfies, hashtags are so often used obtrusively. So in order to be effective you must be creative, targeted, and consistent.
The Four Cs of Hashtag Marketing
In general, hashtags are used in four different ways:
Use the four Cs of hashtag marketing when deciding if and when the use of a hashtag fits into your communications strategy.
If it doesn’t make sense based on one of the hashtag marketing Cs—and in context of your business goals—#leaveitout
Hashtag Marketing for Conversation
One of the most frequent ways consumers use hashtags is for conversation. Hashtags can lace together and allow someone to easily follow conversation through multiple channels, participants, and even topics around one basic theme.
We see this in action whenever conversation about an offline event goes online. This might be a TV show (such as the #Bachelor), a sports game (such as the #SuperBowl), a political event (such as the #SOTU), or even a tragedy, as we currently see after the earthquake in Nepal.
Use a hashtag to thread together conversation, create an integrated experience, and build a community around a topic, brand, event, or theme.
What you shouldn’t do: “Newsjack” a popular hashtag in an attempt to insert your brand into a conversation where it doesn’t belong or be promotional in anyway.
What this means is using the hashtag to build awareness for your cause, like Kenneth Cole did for his new spring collection during the protests in Egypt.
What you should do: Encourage conversation around topics connected to your brand, product, or service. So think of this just as you would content marketing in other forms.
It’s a way to be a moderator in a discussion about relevant and related topics. Using a specific conversation about a topic should always be about community building and connection and never about promotion or selling.
Help People Find You through Category Hashtags
Another frequent use of hashtags is to find new content around a certain categories or topics.
Thirty-four percent of people surveyed in a 2013 RadiumOne analysis report said they use hashtags to search or follow categories and brands of personal interest.
You see this both on Instagram and Twitter frequently through searches for things such as #contentmarketing or #mediarelations.
You also see it specific to a group or theme such as #tbt, #flashbackfriday, and #ootd, or team- or brand-specific hashtags.
For example, I belong to a competitive sports team that has members around the nation. I keep up with what they are doing through training, competition, and so on through our team hashtag.
What you shouldn’t do: Clutter category streams with posts that aren’t relevant to the hashtag tag or theme. Now this doesn’t mean you can’t include your own organization specific #tbt that helps tell a story about who you are and your history.
What you should do: Think about the topics and categories your ideal consumer would be searching to find new content and use appropriate hashtag marketing as a delivery wagon to help your content reach new audiences.
You can also create one or two brand specific hashtags for your community to use to keep track of each other.
Hashtag Marketing Contests
By far, some of my favorite ways that brands include hashtag marketing in their communications strategies is through really creative contests.
Here is an opportunity to put your “awesome hats” on (and hopefully your closet is full of awesome hats) and come up with something super fun, creative, and brand specific that aligns with your strategy and goals.
There are endless ways to create brand specific hashtag marketing contests. One example I often like to use is #Tweetameet through Qatar Airlines.
After finding that most of their bookings came from online channels and their consumers across the board showed a high level of social media activity, Qatar Airlines started exploring how they could be more socially active themselves and connect with consumers online.
Thus #Tweetameet was born creating a user-generated, crowded-sourced travel guide through hashtag marketing.
This Twitter-based contest encouraged participants to pair up and tweet about a destination of their choice served by the airline. They then worked together to produce and tweet travel tips on the destination using hashtag #tweetameet.
Participants received one “Tweet mile” for every tweet sent and winners received tickets to their destination of choice.
The contest worked to not only engage travelers, but also help people learn more about the 120 destinations to which Qatar Airline travels.
What you shouldn’t do: Add a hashtag to a contest where it adds no value.
What you should do: Think of how you can create a hashtag marketing contest that exposes both your brand and what you do in a way that drives and collects qualified leads (for example #tweetameet participants had to register through a microsite) and raises brand awareness.
Also, think about how you can take the contest further.
For example, the number of brand stories this contest created for Qatar Airlines is endless.
Why am I hashtagging my favorite Neil Diamond song (don’t judge me)?
Because, according to that same RadiumOne study, 41 percent of respondents use hashtags to communicate personal ideas and feelings (well, and I also just wanted to have an excuse to blast I am, I said really loudly while writing this blog…win/win).
From a hashtag marketing perspective this should serve as reminder that one fantastic use of hashtags is to help you monitor brand sentiment.
Monitor and Measure
Hashtag marketing shouldn’t stop at the tweet or Instagram post. Just like any other tactic, measurement and monitoring is extremely important and can help you gain useful information to inform future campaigns and communication outreach.
A great example is how the White House monitored tweets using #SOTU as a way to test the messages in the President’s speech.
The following day they applied those learnings to emphasize and reinforce the messages that resonated best.
There are several tools that will help you to do this, and will work well along with Google Analytics and whatever other lead conversion tracking tool you might use.
From conversation to contests, hashtags can be used for good vs. evil.
What are your favorite examples of brands using hashtags well?
photo credit: “Please enter your access code, followed by the pound sign.” via photopin (license)