If you’ve been anywhere near a magazine in the past year, you will know how hard brands have been pushing their hashtag campaigns.
It’s undeniable that hashtags are a great tool for generating and keeping track of online conversations. However, in the brand sphere it seems that overuse and sloppy application are turning then into rather defunct and outdated approach to communication #sorrynotsorry.
In their heyday hashtags were originally used to label and categorise conversations on internet forums. Twitter then adopted them to sort topics of interest for their users and facilitated the widespread adoption of hashtagging. The introduction of Twitter’s trending section further expanded their functions allowing us (and them) to keep track of online conversations as they happen. Twitter have a particular focus on keeping this organic and have an algorithm to ensure the trends we see cannot be spammed. This is testament to the main point of this article: If hashtags are going to work, they need to occur naturally.
We decided to do some digging and see how useful branded hashtags really are in above the line media. It’s a rare occasion that we will see a brand trending on social media, and that’s because, generally, people don’t want conversation/language being forced upon them.
This is not to say that brands shouldn’t use hashtags, but rather to make sure they use them well. River Island’s #IMWEARINGRI is a great example of how it can be done right; they understand how to create language people would actually use, without any help. Celebrities are often at the top of the trending lists and hold huge influence on online conversation, giving people a reason to care about the brands they endorse.
Of course it’s not always possible to piggyback off fame, and usually more thought is required for hashtags to work. ASOS (usually) demonstrate good practice in this case. Instead of trying to create new conversations, they get involved with what is already trending and get actively involved in the conversation.
This said ASOS are also an example of how to avoid slip ups. Make sure the language and topics you use are unlikely to be misinterpreted. A simple search of ASOS’ #ParkaLife, resulted in a lovely photo of the toilets at Park Life music festival. Not really something you really want associated with your brand (unless you sell hand sanitiser).
It is unfortunate that many a great brand falls into the trap of assuming their customers want to talk about their products as much as they do. Take Startbucks’ #psl example: Sure people like pumpkin spiced latte’s but those who are enthusiastic enough to talk about them on social did so before Starbucks told them they should and therefore results in very little branded content on searching. #psl also turns up results for the Premier Soccer League and the Pakistan Super League and therefore results in a very mixed (and slightly boring) bag of results for pumpkin spiced latte fans.
To reiterate the main point – don’t force the conversation. Unless you’re advertising is a controversial work of creative brilliance it’s probably unlikely people will want to talk about it on-line, and therefore your hashtags will be useless. Instead of talking at consumers, talk with them and get to know what they’re about – that’s more effective than any hashtag.