Hashtags Are A Double-Edged Sword


I’m just going to come out and say it: hashtags are not ownable. Period.

I’ll say it again: you cannot own a hashtag. But guess what brands are constantly doing? They’ve come up with a hashtag to promote their business or product or ongoing campaign. Sound familiar? Or how about this: at the end of a TV ad, you hear something like: “Join the conversation on Twitter with #blahblahblah.”

In the context of all this, a lot of people ask me, “Gary, how do I get my hashtag known? How do I get people to use it?”.

My answer is always the same.

You need to understand that anybody, regardless of whether they have anything to do with your campaign or not, will be able to walk in and use that hashtag. They could tweet about something completely unrelated and totally confuse the message you’re trying to get across. Or worse. If you can remember all the way back to 2009, Skittles put out a hashtag and ended up with a lot of really crude things on their hashtag. Even worse, Skittles made their homepage a live feed of that hashtag, where everything that was posted using it showed up. Yikes.

It still happens today. We saw it most recently with Coca-Cola’s automated tweets that used a hashtag to aggregate content. Every day, I walk into brand meetings where people will say things like “Let’s own the #GetEm hashtag.” My usual response is: what the hell are you talking about?

However, hashtag culture is very important, especially to Instagram and Twitter. Those are really the two places that it massively over-indexes. It’s an incredible way to get discovered. So, what’s the right way to use them?

Flip the idea upside down. Work backwards.

Instead of trying to own or establish a hashtag for a campaign, look at hashtags that are trending and very popular on the two main platforms already. Research your audience. See what they’re saying. What hashtags are they using? Try to figure out how to reverse into them by putting out your piece of content, storytelling.

The only reason I use the #AskGaryVee hashtag is to find the questions to answer. It’s a utility play, not a marketing tactic. It’s unownable. You really need to think about why you would want to own a hashtag in the first place. That can be a very tricky predicament.

Ride the wave. Be creative. See what’s out there and make something awesome.

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