Why Branded Hashtags Don’t Make Your Campaign Social


This article first published by Social Media Advertising Consortium here: http://www.smac.org/2013/08/30/why-branded-hashtags-dont-make-your-campaign-social/


August 2013 — Proponents point to Twitter hashtags as an organizing tool that help you quickly communicate a point and more effectively search for and find what you are looking for. Detractors now consider hashtags passé, say they have no true search value, and go as far as to say they junk up your tweet and make it look “ugly”. I’ve got no real issue with hashtags themselves and find they are becoming part of how we further summarize and truncate our communications. My beef is that brands are increasingly using them in a way that defeats the whole point of what hashtags are, how they are created, and when they should be used.

Nary a marketing campaign goes out the door these days without an accompanying hashtag. That’s right, a hashtag for the campaign, a word or phrase that pertains not necessarily to the brand, the product, or to a larger organic conversation, but to the campaign itself. Such is the danger of mixing paid media and social without a good strategy – you force people to have a conversation about your brand’s marketing efforts. Buying a conversation ultimately is taking the easy way out and it won’t impact your brand positively in the long term. 

Example: #ThanksTicketOak – Saw this hashtag from StubHub plastered on my MBTA train on the way to work this morning. I understand that the “Ticket Oak” is a central figure in StubHub’s current campaign, but I can’t imagine anybody “thanking” the Ticket Oak for selling tickets far above their face value. What’s in it for the customer to do so? Instead, a fair amount of the people actually using the hashtag are only doing so to talk about how “terrifying” they think the character/ the ads are. Probably not the conversation the brand was hoping to drive.

Marketers and agencies are forgetting where social is rooted: with the customer. Conversations begin with them and it’s up to the brand to figure out how to be relevant within that preexisting context. The whole notion of social media marketing is that there is already a consumer conversation happening. Brands should be joining these conversations on the terms of the customer, not always trying to initiate them.Trying to force the start of a new conversation via a hashtag is no more social than running a TV spot. Hashtags should occur organically. They signify that a conversation around a certain topic has started and will likely continue, and if you’re smart and have good timing, your organization might be able to join that conversation. But being smart and having good timing is hard. So instead, brands are now just throwing hashtags out into the marketplace as a part of their campaigns and crossing their fingers that customers start using them – not dissimilar from throwing wet noodles against the wall to see what sticks. Marketers are likely being pressured into making their traditional marketing campaigns “more social,” but simply slapping on a hashtag is not getting the job done.So, instead of forcing your campaign-focused conversation and agenda upon your audience, here are a couple of ideas on how to effectively incorporate hashtags into your brand’s marketing efforts:

1. Create an Evocative Consistent Storyline in Support of Brand Themes: Marketers seem to feel like they need a new hashtag for every variation of campaign tactics when in actuality a good hashtag should be more evergreen. It should spotlight the story your brand is trying to tell or capture what’s particularly unique or beneficial about your product or service. For example, a few years ago I would have recommended against Nike using a different hashtag for all its product lines. Why use #nikegolf, #nikegridiron, #nikehoops, #nikerun etc. when really the more powerful umbrella hashtag to promote would be #justdoit?  Adding #justdoit to all these posts would help define the “Just Do It” story and folks are going to be more apt to use this type of anthem-focused message versus some subcategory product moniker.


2. Use a Word or Phrase that People would use in Real-World Conversations: Although we’re restricted to 140 characters, we’re still human and don’t want to speak like weird, automated hashtag robots (besides those people on Twitter that use a hashtag for every single word). For example, AMC just uses their show title so people can say things like “#TheWalkingDead was so good tonight!” versus McDonald’s forcing #UnwrapWhatsFresh on consumers, which led to some less-than-savory tweets, completely unrelated to the brand or their new McWrap.


3. Provide Value and Encourage UGC: Give people a reason to use a hashtag. Don’t assume people will just start organically adding your hashtag to their tweets because they will not unless it in some way advances their conversation or provides value. Encourage people to participate in being a part of the brand story by offering your audience a chance to create and have their content featured by your brand, or answering their questions to the hashtag like the Old Spice Guy. You’ve made them turn from their TV screen (or in my case the MBTA train) and login to Twitter to participate. Now thank them by providing value.


Whatever you end up doing, try to keep things simple. There is a natural tendency to overcomplicate things because simple campaigns can seem like they haven’t been worked on enough. Not the case, complexity, particularly with social, is a killer. In the meantime, keep an eye out for some ridiculous hashtags and remind yourself not to make the same mistake.John Mataraza is Director of Marketing at Digital Influence Group, a Boston-based full-service digital marketing agency with social media at the core. Connect with John on Twitter @jmaz3 or on LinkedIn.

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