The # symbol until not too long ago was just another one of those inconspicuous keys on your keyboards and telephones. The hash (or the pound symbol like the Americans like to call it) symbol was rarely used other than in mathematical or coding (software programming) terms. Of course, there were a few other usages, like for example I was one of those few people who liked to prefix # before a number because I had grown up knowing it to be the number sign, though I later realized that this wasn’t a very popular practice. Also, there were those (and still is; maybe more so now, than before) rare instances when the IVR systems asked us to press the # key to confirm the input we made. Then Twitter happened, and all of a sudden the # symbol was catapulted into the limelight, even surpassing the fame its cousin the @ symbol had managed to garner since the advent of e-mail communication.
If you were to ask any of the internet junkies today what the # symbol represented, 9/10 times they’d associate it with Twitter. For the uninitiated, the # symbol is prefixed before a string of words/text (without spaces) to enable easier search and these texts are called hashtags. For example, if I were to add #MondayBlues at the end of my tweet, it would appear in the search results for #MondayBlues along with all the other posts using the same hashtag. Read more about how this works in one of my previous posts – Twitter For Dummies
Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake preempting the inevitable.Looking at how people seem to be capriciously hash-tagging everything under the sun these days, how could the rival networks not embrace it? Did they? You bet your ass they did! Most of the big daddies like Facebook, Google +, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Vine support hashtags today. A couple of names that are missing in this list are that of LinkedIn and YouTube (I might be wrong on this one. It didn’t work for me though). LinkedIn had introduced support for hashtags earlier this year and scrapped it after a few months without any rhyme or reason, which is a shame; because the platform possesses the potential to be the hub for sharing UGC (user generated content) which exhibits thought leadership. YouTube seems to have scrapped support for hashtags as well; again, the logic behind this move is unknown. What this trend has also done, is that it has given birth to hash-tag aggregator and analytic sites like HashTags.org, Tagboard and HashtagGuide.com.
A collage of posts with the hashtag #MondayBlues
Apart from visibility in remote search results, there are a few other reasons why hashtags are a marketer’s best friend. Here’s a few I could think of:
- Reach: Say you have 500 followers on your Twitter handle. Each tweet you publish would then have a reach of 500 + the number of times it was retweeted. In that case, the rate of impressions would be those 500 followers + (the number of times it was retweeted x total follower count of the retweeters). The thing is, if you don’t use a hashtag, chances are that only your followers and the followers of the people who retweet your tweet will get to see your post. Adding a hashtag will ensure that your tweet/content grabs more eyeballs and if you’re lucky, more interactions as well.
- Tailored Feed: Quite often, we end up following someone based on a few of their tweets that may have been relevant to our domain/industry. The problem with this is that we’ve no say over what they choose to tweet; they could tweet about politics which is irrelevant to us, yet it appears on our Twitter TL (Timeline/Feed). Your best option is to tailor-make your own feeds – either create a list with a certain hashtag criteria or just search for that hashtag to pull-up the related tweets. And voila! Marketers too can curate content for their audiences by segregating each category of tweets using hashtags, which also means that they don’t have to look to create separate handles for different verticals, geographies etc.
- Cohesive Campaigns: Time and again we notice marketers using a different campaign title on Twitter, from what they use on Facebook, and this could be because they want to have a unique hashtag on Twitter. Though there’s nothing wrong with this practice, it defies logic. If your objective is to create a seamless experience for your customers then you may want to look at creating seamless campaigns as well. Create a hashtag that can be easily associated with your brand, and keep it short. Ensure that this hashtag is consistent across social networks and you could even make do without a separate campaign microsite.
- Share-ability: Remember those days when you gave out your Facebook URLs and Twitter handle names to get users to visit your social properties? Good times 😐 But, that’s in the past. A better way to get fans/customers to visit you is to share your carefully crafted hashtag and asking them to look for you on specific channels. Who doesn’t like a bit of a challenge, eh?
- Piggy-Backing: It’s unscrupulous to hijack (hashtag hijacking is the new form of guerilla marketing!) someone else’s hashtag, but it’s perfectly alright to piggy-back on a generic tag. For example if you are an insurance brand, you could attach tags like #Insurance and #ILoveInsurance to your tweets. In fact, it is highly recommended that you use only generic tags (after researching thoroughly) in your tweets, when it’s not pertaining to any particular campaign that you’re running. This is because when you create a new hashtag, the chance of people stumbling upon it is very low. However it’s a necessary evil when you’re looking to drive indigenous campaigns.
Based on what I’ve observed and a few things that I’ve experimented with, myself, following are a few ways to leverage hashtags (in no particular order) to create a seamless social campaign:
- E-mail Signature: You send out tons of mails every day, some useful and some not so useful. These e-mails are seen by a number of stakeholders, both internally and externally; then why not make use of the free real-estate below your signature? Agreed, the reach may not be as high as opposed to promoting it via a mass medium like television, but the results would be equally satisfactory. Most people tend to stuff the signature banner with text, but I’d recommend you keep the text to a bare minimum (with campaign title, date etc.) and only highlight your campaign hashtag.
- Media Promotions: A surefire way to get more people to find you on social media is by incorporating your custom hashtag (this is NOT one of those times where you’d want to use a generic hashtag!) into your print ads, TV commercials and even your outdoor advertising platforms like billboards, blimps and ticker screens etc. Make sure that there’s some candy (CAUTION: Do not give away actual candy. Please budget for something slightly more expensive) waiting for the customer at the other end of the rope to sweeten the deal.
- On-ground Activation: If your organization is the kind that likes to think outside the square and is into stuff like carrying out quirky and novel activation campaigns, then you can have a lot of fun with hashtags. Think of ways to connect your on-ground activity with social media and ask your customers to whip out their smartphones to participate. For example – Treasure Hunt. Say, you’re running an on-ground activation inside a mall, you could send your customers on a treasure hunt and ask them to click pictures of the items in the list and post it to Twitter with the stated hashtag. To make things more interesting, you could get users on Twitter to show their support for the contestants and maybe even help them find the items. Such activities are fun and appealing, which also engages a much wider audience base.
- Collaterals and Packaging: Does your organization print a lot of collaterals (literature) and packages? Great. Add your company specific hashtag on them and ensure that it’s prominent. Do the same with soft copy collaterals (add your hashtag to every page of the document) like whitepapers, thought papers, case studies, presentation slides, etc.
- Events: There are a whole bunch of ways in which you can align your event participation with your social media campaign, using hashtags. Listed below are a few ways:
- Booth/Stall Graphics: Make sure to incorporate your event-specific hashtag (same as the one used in your social campaign) into the booth graphics so that the overzealous social media enthusiasts who visit your booth know, which hashtag to use to share their experience and connect with you on social. If you care to make it more interesting, ask the booth visitors to publish something to Facebook or Twitter using your hashtag, tempting them with a raffle draw and a chance to win some goodies.
- Photo Opportunity: Set-up a backdrop/cut-out with some interesting graphics and allow the visitors to take pictures in front it. Add your hashtag to the graphic so that when they share that picture on social media, the reach for your hashtag automatically increases.
- Event Literature and Goodies: You probably hand out tons of fliers, brochures and goodies at these events, right? Then why not add your hashtag to them? Customers will take that collateral/goodie with them and may just decide to interact with you using your hashtag, during a boring presentation/seminar or even post the event.
- Social Screen: Nothing gets people more eager to participate in something than having their peers influence them. Set-up a screen at your booth or in the presentation hall and live-stream the feed of user posts carrying your hashtag. It’s also exciting for the customer to see their posts appearing in the live feed. However, make sure to have an exigency plan ready for when somebody hijacks your hashtag and starts posting disparaging or inflammatory content.
- Presentations: Make it a practice to add your hashtag to the top-right or bottom-right corner of your presentation so that attendees can post quotes, thoughts etc. in real-time. Post the event, when the presentations are circulated to the attendees, they still see your hashtag. The same can be incorporated into webinars.
- Free Wi-Fi: It’s a common practice to offer free Wi-Fi to attendees at trade shows and customer events. If your organization is hosting the event, then create another branding opportunity by setting your event hashtag as the network name. You never know, customers may even publicly thank you for it.
A collage of hashtag campaigns promoted via multiple channels
Social media is here to stay but hashtags…I’m not so sure. Hashtags may be the IN-thing today but someone somewhere is already conceiving the next trend. So I’d recommend you approach it pragmatically and don’t go on a manic hash-tagging spree. Carefully craft your hashtags after giving it a lot of thought and incorporate your organization level hashtags into the social media strategy. It’s a protracted and complicated process to implement a hashtag campaign but all it takes is one post for your campaign to become a PR nightmare (here are a few such stories), so beware!
If you’ve implemented or spotted a hashtag campaign that did really well (or otherwise), do share.
#TheEnd #ThanksForReading #PeaceOut