Are We Becoming #Hashtag Nation?

by John Garvey

Hashtags. You can’t escape them even if you put your smartphone aside, leave your tablet in the other room, and close the lid on your laptop. There they are on TV commercials and in increasing numbers.  Only a few years ago, decades in Internet time, hashtags were going through their fun, sophomoric stage where you would hashtag #AnyRandomThought and then post it. Today they are a serious branding tool. When you examine their potential, it is easy to understand why.

Let’s start with the basics. Hashtagging posts on certain Social Media platforms allows you to work your way into a specific conversation which is defined by the hashtag. Brands can also discover important trends, conversations, and influencers by tracking certain hashtags.  Here is how a former colleague of ours, Kaitlyn Bigica, Senior Social Media Associate at MEC, describes them.

Kaitlyn Bigica

Kaitlyn Bigica, Senior Social Media Associate at MEC

“Conversation, trending topics, influencers and contests. Hashtags have become a multifaceted tool for brands to interact with consumers. Brands are not just utilizing hashtags to show up in search, they are also using it to become relevant around certain topics. As social is real time, discovering current trends in conversation and acting on them immediately is crucial. After all, the window for a trending hashtag may be an hour, so craft your content quickly! Hashtags help brands discover that ‘buzz worthy’ content and see how consumers are engaging with it. Brands are also using hashtags to discover influencers or brand advocates to build relationships with for potential partnerships. This is important as consumers have become increasingly trusting of each other’s opinions rather than the brands themself. Brands are also using hashtags for contests to aggregate entries and raise brand awareness.”

Currently, they are most effective when used on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Because I am writing this on Friday, let me give you a few quick examples that are on my mind: #beer, #Patriots.  Remember, Social Media platforms are communities, but they also function as search engines.  Searching hashtag #Beer on Twitter (I am trying to keep this simple) allows me see what that community is saying about that subject (insert graphic A). This is not a static conversation either. It can change and update with new posts every few seconds depending upon the popularity of the hashtag.

Okay, so you are thinking now, “you said serious branding tool.”  Be patient, I am getting there but first, a few more examples.  Current big brand hashtag campaigns include Budlight’s #whatsyoursuperstition campaign (Serious? How else would you get people to talk about Bud Light?), and Target’s #mykindofholiday campaign which is being promoted quite heavily by the Today Show. The Target campaign is impressively serious. NBC is coming off of its own hashtag campaign, #WhatAreYouThankfulFor, which it launched across all of its properties for the Thanksgiving holiday (that’s right all: news, sports, entertainment, etc.). Marriott ran a #TravelBrilliantly campaign earlier this year.

Poor brands. Consider what they had to do in the old days to aggregate audiences: Yes, in hindsight, it seems barbaric. Just a few years ago, brands would string together a bunch of words and create a .com out of it. That burdensome concept still continues today with the NFL running a campaign this season that ends with What?

Are hashtags here to stay? #IThinkSo, but follow #GCAiPlanet or sign up for our weekly newsletter to stay informed.