What’s the best way to use a hashtag?
Pick one for the long term or is it ok to use short term, campaign- or event-specific hashtags? We’re often faced with this conundrum in advising our clients. On the one hand, a trend doesn’t happen overnight, with rare exceptions (see Beiber, Justin), and we often make the case for carefully choosing a long term hashtag that concisely represents the initiative rather than hyper-specific hashtags for short lived campaigns or events.
Example of long-term initiative hashtag use:
Reebok’s #livewithfire project has multiple events and touchpoints, perfect for using one overarching hashtag. In this case, they tagged a live twitter chat as one piece of the global initiative.
Bad example of a hashtag? See the title of this post. (There goes 24% of your valuable Tweet characters!)
On the other hand
Aren’t hashtags great for short term campaign tracking? They are! If they get used by actual brand targets, not just the brand itself. We often see brands using short term hashtags that don’t get enough light of day to generate traction and subsequently the only uses of the hashtag we see are due to retweets, not original tweets by other Twitter users. Retweets are already trackable, so that hashtag use didn’t help build much buzz in the Twittersphere. Don’t forget hashtags are also used on Pinterest, too.
Here is a list of pros and cons from our experience using campaign-level hashtags:
- PRO: helpful for tracking tweets and pins related to a campaign
- PRO: indicates to anyone who sees the tweet that it’s a ‘thing’ – a campaign or initiative of some kind – could generate interest by this virtue alone
- PRO: allows for a consistent tracking method since both Twitter and Pinterest support hashtags, assuming your campaign involves both
- CON: if your campaign is very short term, and there’s no specific incentive for users to make use of the hashtag, it might not get used by anyone but you, defeating the purpose
- CON: takes up precious characters in tweets
- CON: be honest, is this something your target audience is likely to tweet/pin about and use your tag?
An alternative to using a very short term hashtag is adopting one that applies to a broader initiative or length of time. For example, a dog food brand might use #healthypuppy to support its long term positioning of providing puppy health solutions, which could cover specific puppy food brand campaigns, promotions, appearances at tradeshows, corporate messaging, etc. If you’re targeting a narrow audience, that could also decrease the likelihood your hashtag will gain traction. However, an engagement campaign that seeks to generate tweets and pins in exchange for an entry into a sweepstakes or photo sharing contest, for example, is critical to tracking those submissions.
Hashtags are also used for tradeshows, conferences, seminars and events such as #CES2013 for Consumer Electronics Show 2013. Event hashtags help attendees find each other and create a sense of community online and offline. If you are an event organizer, make sure you use the hashtag prior to the show, include it prominently on websites and outreach, and be consistent to help people follow the conversation. Most importantly, always check if the hashtags are being used by other events – especially if they are short acronyms. You don’t want your tracking getting muddled by other people’s conversations. We also encourage you to be consistent for annual events – Consumer Electronics Show was #CES2012 last year.
So how do you decide? If there’s no requirement as in the sweepstakes or contest examples above, and your audience is somewhat narrow, and what you’re really trying to convey is about a longer term positioning like #puppyhealth, skip the campaign-specific hashtag. Instead opt for a broader term you can use for a while, and build on a more slow-and-steady basis. If you’ve got a really engaging, broad audience campaign that has the potential for a lot of people to get behind, go for the very specific hashtag that will make tracking easier and help your targets engage with each other, not just your brand. That’s the real sweet spot for brands using hashtags.
Other opinions, examples? #PleaseShare!