How to Truly Own a Brand-Owned Hashtag

October 17, 2019  |  Alex Boeder

BVK

Five Key POV Takeaways:

How to Truly Own a Brand-Owned Hashtag

Whether or not you personally #love hashtags, today they are central to the language of the internet and ubiquitous in popular culture. In fact, that #love hashtag has been used more than two billion times on Instagram alone. What started in 2007 as one man’s attempt to tag conversations on Twitter has grown into a universal symbol with the power to launch, sustain, and strengthen global movements (and brand campaigns).

Increasingly, brands have been keen on harnessing the power of hashtags. Wading too far into the deep side of the internet pool however is not without risk, especially for brands. The beauty of hashtags is that they can spread like wildfire or become unforgettable phrases. The other side of that coin is that once you put a hashtag into the very public internet sphere, it is liable to take on a life of its own, if not done right.

So, how can a brand truly own a brand-owned hashtag? In short, by striking a balance between being strategically on point without feeling contrived, by walking the fine line between catchy without being forced. No problem, right? #Follow along…

What is the purpose and value of a brand-owned hashtag?

That is the first question you should answer before jumping in.

Like with any advertising tactic or strategy, it is important to establish your goal. For brands, an owned hashtag offers great potential to build awareness, conversation, and positive sentiment in an easily trackable way, which can be brought to life in many forms.

Conversation Starter – At its heart, a hashtag should capture not only the essence of the brand but also the conversational and inspirational nature of social media. Not all hashtags need to be intended to drive massive audience participation (more on that below), but if that is the aim, then you must connect with your audience emotively, on a topic they are passionate about, and do so in a bold way.

The #LikeAGirl campaign by Always flipped the conventional meaning of that phrase on its head, in turn empowering girls everywhere, resulting in a dramatic increase in positive association with the phrase, an outpouring of positive sentiment and meaningful conversation, and public relations wins.

Campaign ActivatorCoca-Cola famously spurred action via its #ShareACoke campaign, which built on the overall campaign of the same name. The original rollout of the campaign featured a “de-branding” of the traditional bottle, which included the phrase “Share a Coke with” followed by a person’s name. The personalized and interactive nature of the campaign lent itself perfectly to social media, with users proudly displaying their personalized bottles in photos, transforming them from consumers to public brand advocates.

One key lesson is that branded hashtags do not need to be confined to social media. They may launch in a different medium and then play out in social media, or vice-versa. And to keep the campaign fresh, Coca-Cola has traditionally reinvented the campaign each summer. Thinking about the big picture will lead to the biggest results; the #ShareACoke campaign has been credited with reversing declining sales numbers.

Messaging Unifier – The goal of a hashtag does not always need to be based foremost on encouraging audience adoption. If you make it clear in the upfront that the purpose of the branded hashtag is to function as a campaign unifier, then there is no reason to base the success of it on how often your target audience uses it.

In some cases, an owned hashtag is a great vehicle for a brand to naturally weave in consistent, creative messaging throughout a campaign. Similar to more traditional forms of advertising, establishing lift in brand awareness and advocacy on social media requires memorable messaging. A versatile hashtag, such as #ThatsWY for the Wyoming Office of Tourism, is one way to do just that.

How should brands avoid becoming a #HashtagFail cautionary tale?

For every branded hashtag success story, there is an example of a hashtag that never produced the intended result, or worse yet, adversely impacted the brand.

Don’t provide an opening for the masses to pile on – User-generated content (UGC) can be greatly valuable to a brand, as long as it is positive in nature. When McDonald’s introduced #McDStories, it inadvertently opened itself up to lurid stories from people who had negative experiences. Know your strengths (and weaknesses) and play to (or away from) them.

Avoid opportunism – Word to the wise: Internet users (and the media) will gleefully pounce on brands that demonstrate a lack of self-awareness or simply want to capitalize on what is #trending. Be smart, not opportunistic.

What best practices will ensure the success of a brand-owned hashtag?

The playbook on social media, and by extension hashtags, is ever-changing. That said, sound strategic thinking will always guide the way to success.

Choose a creative and ownable hashtag – When creating a new branded hashtag from scratch (as opposed to riding the wave of existing hashtags), keep these three rules in mind:

Listen. Listen. Listen.Audi’s #WantAnR8 campaign was the result of simply paying attention to a follower who, yes, wanted an Audi R8. Instead of merely following up with that individual, Audi built an entire campaign around the theme.
Not only did this take care of the issue of creating a new hashtag in the first place, the campaign demonstrated and brought to life how Audi cares about its audience, which fostered an atmosphere of brand advocacy. Hashtags by nature are trackable. For inspiration before creating your own, we recommend monitoring hashtags that your audience is using, as well as the language and phrases they gravitate toward. Once you create (or borrow) one, keep a close eye on trends and results.

Engage and reward brand advocates – Beyond monitoring, we recommend interacting with your audience, and thinking about ways to reward or showcase brand influencers and loyalists.

That could be as simple as retweeting or sharing their post, or it could go as far as reaching out to someone who shared a testimonial and featuring them as the star of your next campaign. Use discretion however, as there is always a degree of risk when you highlight or endorse someone who is not thoroughly vetted.

Consider channel implications – Audiences on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn use hashtags in their own distinct way. On Instagram, hashtags are often used for discovery purposes. Twitter excels at positioning hashtags to build and organize conversation, and for trending purposes. Most Facebook profiles are private, which means instead of using branded hashtags as conversation starters, they function best as campaign messaging unifiers. LinkedIn branded hashtags are increasingly used for discovery.

In all cases, we suggest staying on the pulse of each channel, knowing that the nature of hashtag use is liable to evolve.

Evolve and build – Think big-picture. Many of the most sustainably successful branded hashtags have been reinvented beyond an initial campaign, such as Lay’s #DoUsAFlavor campaign, which has made a tradition of crowdsourcing ideas from its fans… fans which, thanks in large part to a branded hashtag, now rightfully feel that they are truly part of the brand.

Given how quickly the social media landscape changes, and how many considerations must be carefully balanced to successfully activate a brand-owned hashtag, we recommend reaching out to a BVK social media strategist to build a strategic roadmap for your branded hashtag.

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Alex Boeder
is a Social Media Account Supervisor at BVK

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