Hashtags Are A Double-Edged Sword
Gary Vaynerchuk
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Are Hashtags The New QR Code?

Yesterday, I read a post on Medium by Gary Vaynerchuk titled “Hashtags Are A Double-Edged Sword” which I immediately shared with my network and commented on as well. In the post, Gary says, “hashtags are not own-able” — which I tend to agree with.

The read was thought provoking but also spoke volumes around how hashtags are often misused and misunderstood by even the most savvy of digital marketers.

In fact, it reminded me of an era not to long ago when the QR code was the “flavor of the month” and used by brands everywhere from print media, online media, in-store, and even on places such as: bus stops, shopping carts, and business cards.

Then, QR codes went away and in came the hashtag. Once exclusive to Twitter, hashtags have since expanded to platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. Essentially, they are digital streams of content and/or conversation related to a particular topic or subject matter.

Not only are hashtags used by consumers of social media but as marketing evolves, digitally, they’re popping up in brand campaigns everywhere from TV to in-store, print, and online.

Why? As a marketer, you aim to inspire conversation around your brand through digitally engaged consumers — they are the marketers and often times carry more influence than the brand itself.

Smart.

However, what happens when brands create a hashtag for every marketing campaign or add a hashtag at the end of a TV ad (as seen during the Super Bowl) without thinking through the execution?

I call it “oversaturation”.

Going back to Gary’s post around hashtags being a “double-edged sword”, he’s right.

As brands and marketers, we are all playing in the same sandbox. Unless you are Facebook or Twitter, nobody owns the right to the content that’s posted on these channels — including hashtags.

What happens often, from my point of view, is brands create hashtags with the objective that it will go viral and lead to incremental brand awareness, mentions, media impressions, sales, etc. only to be utterly disappointed with the outcome, which is typically a lack of engagement — the complete opposite.

I’ve often said, in previous marketing roles, if the endgame is to drive customers and prospects (impressions, leads, etc.) back to an owned channel (email newsletter, website, e-commerce, etc.) why not create a call-to-action around “Visit us at…” or “Follow us on Twitter at…”

If a hashtag were part of the marketing strategy, wouldn’t it make better sense to use an already existing hashtag that is widely used and is relevant in context vs. creating one, which times take to effectively develop?

Below, I’ve broken down the three types of ways that brands should seek to incorporate hash-tags into their marketing mix including best practices as leveraged by leading enterprise brands.

Vanity Hashtags:

When a brand creates its own hashtag, example: #WhatIsLoveIn4Words by McDonald’s and #UpForWhatever by Budlight, the hashtag is the campaign. It’s the entree, not the side dish. From my standpoint, last year Coca-Cola set the standard for how hashtags can drive ROI through its #ShareACoke campaign. Not only did Coca-Cola replace it’s own, iconic logo with the names of potential customers but they developed an entire campaign around social media sharing including call-to-action’s and its own website compiling user generated photo’s incremental to what customers were already sharing across Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Well done, Coke!

Trending Hashtags:

An effective strategy, and a more cost friendly one too, is to leverage hashtags, which are already trending. Real-time marketing can be an effective way for brands to engage with consumers in the moment as evidenced through #SuperBowl and #Grammys. While no cost is required, unless you’re wishing to run a sponsored tweet targeting a popular hashtag, it does require resources for brands to monitor and engage through a highly active comment feed. The results however can amount to increased followers, retweets featuring your brands content, or even user-generated content.

Community Hashtags:

Whether it’s a Twitter chat, or a local group, community hashtags such as #WineGang and #FoodieChat target a specific audience or consumer base. Based on what your brand sells, or offers, take some time to research what community hashtags may already exist. As a best practice, rather than “hijack” a popular hashtag, engage in dialogue with users of the online community. Make your brand be a part of the conversation vs. the conversation itself as a sign of goodwill.

Was this helpful? I’m curious to hear your thoughts below.

~ Carlos Gil

Carlos Gil is a distinguished Marketing Executive, Senior Digital Strategist, Corporate Social Media Leader, and Speaker. Follow Carlos on Twitter @CarlosGil83.

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