To Hashtag, or Not to Hashtag? Three Answers

You’ve heard of the hashtag, the symbol formerly known as #, and you’ve seen it everywhere from your TV screen, to your Twitter feed, to a text from your buddy as you meet up for a pub crawl.

queen of the world

What began on Twitter to organize conversations has since morphed and run rampant over the social media land. Hashtags now work on Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and many others (but, curiously, not LinkedIn). Click on a hashtag and discover what other people have to say about topics you’re interested in. Make your own. Etc.

Before I started writing this, I held the thankfully erroneous opinion that no business had ever succeeded with a branded hashtag.

A blog from Hubspot’s Lindsay Kolowich, “The Rules of Twitter Hashtags: Hits and Misses From 7 Big Brands” put my mind at ease. Charmin, The Make-a-Wish Foundation, DiGiorno Pizza, and Esurance have all done it right – and Kolowich identifies why their campaigns worked. (It’s a good post. You should read it).

To hashtag, or not to hashtag? Here are my 3 answers for successful hashtag use for your business.

Answer #1: Why Not to Create a New Hashtag

Before you start a brand-new hashtag: 

  • Don’t think about why you want to start a new hashtag.
  • Do think about why your audience wants you to start a new hashtag.

325406057_361da59977_zSelf-serving promotional campaigns by McDonald’s, Walgreen’s, upscale British supermarket chain Waitrose, and Qantas airlines asked their customers to tweet why they love them.

Why on earth would any business think that was a good idea? What’s in it for me to tell Walgreen’s – a pharmacy chain! – why I love them? Absolutely nothing, that’s what.

And anyone who went to school as a child knows, you’re not supposed to put the ‘Kick Me’ sign on your own back! If you glance through that Mashable article you’ll notice a theme to the reactions: their followers did the opposite of what they wanted.

Answer #2: Why You Must Absolutely Create a New Hashtag

Because your audience wants you to. Because there’s something in it for them if they use it.

“But Jenn,” you say. “How do you even know they want me to do this?”

Well, they don’t know that specifically. But if we return to the Kolowich article and look at the brands that succeeded, a pattern emerges.

hashtagging 2

hashtagging 4

hashtagging 3What do each of these have in common?

They’re playful and fun. And Twitter users like to have fun. 

  • Charmin makes a discreet nod at bathroom humor.
  • Childhood cancer is a tragedy, full stop. When a little boy with cancer has kind of a cool wish, to fight crime with Batman, many people volunteer to make the event a success. Following Batkid as he races to save San Francisco is fun and bittersweet, and we love to cheer him on. (Hey. I’m still cheering for Batkid).
  • The Superbowl + trash-talking + pizza = marriage made in heaven. When DiGiorno joins in the trash-talking fun, it’s surprising and funny.

People on Twitter, or on other social media, don’t just want to have fun. They want everyone to know they’re having fun; they want to share it.

That’s how your new hashtag catches on. 

Answer #3: The Truth is, You Really Don’t Need to Start a New One

Social media is noisy. There are already lots of conversations happening.

Don’t start a new conversation if you don’t need to. The metrics-obsessed prefer to start a new one because then it’s much easier to track its success. But that is not reason enough to do it.

Don’t succumb to the pressure. It’s better to listen to the existing conversations. Many brands jumped on the #GoT hashtag during the most recent Game of Thrones season. My favorite:

hashtagging 1

On a more serious note, you’ll find new people to add to your network, new content to share, and new ideas from learning what’s happening in your business sphere. You’ll become visible to a group of people who shares your interest. You leverage the power of an existing network.

Much easier than starting yours from scratch, right?

Special note: a lot of people use @ links to people when they are talking about them in the hope of highjacking their community. Problem is, it looks like you’re spamming them. Highjacking a hashtag is much more effective because the audience is much broader.


go ahead, kick me” by brandon schauer is used under CC-BY-SA 2.0

Twitter images were shared by Hubspot and Socialbro.


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