They were first spotted in 2007.
They were given the official thumbs-up in 2009.
Now they are everywhere. You cannot escape.
By they, I mean hashtags.
I was watching television the other evening and in the ad break, every single advert finished with a hashtag, inviting consumers to engage with the brands being advertised.
A day or two later, I was at Kings Cross St Pancras, walking through the underpass between the two stations. This is currently undergoing a takeover to promote six-day holidays in Ontario and you really cannot miss it as it stretches for many metres between the two ticket halls. It is a highly visual campaign – as you can see from the photo below – and, once again, contains a very prominent hashtag, in this case #discoverontario.
(images via AVIACIRCLE)
And then today, when people from the Faroe Islands to North Africa witnessed a solar eclipse. Oreo, who are renowned for their skills in using social media, hijacked the astronomical event by creating a multi-channel marketing campaign around it using the hashtag #OreoEclipse.
Oreo paid for a wraparound of The Sun newspaper:
They also ran this very cool video on a billboard in central London.
And they have paid to promote the hashtag on Twitter.
So, are we in danger of becoming hashtagged out? Some people, including Jimmy Fallon from America’s Tonight Show, thinks we are well past that.
[ot-video type=”youtube” url=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/57dzaMaouXA”]
Hashtags are useful for marketers in one very clear sense – they allow you to categorise content you are using in a way that means it is easily trackable. Use a hashtag in a series of tweets in Twitter and you can easily see them all just by clicking on the hashtag. You can also easily see if anyone else has used it.
And this is the challenge – getting people to use it.
Hashtags can gain traction in some cases.
The #OreoEclipse is a good example of a hashtag that works well. The marketing campaign they have created is a lot of fun, in line with much of its previous marketing. People will use hashtags like these because they are acknowledging a funny advert.
The other sort of hashtag that works well is the #DiscoverOntario type. Other examples of this are #inCostaBrava and #LoveCapeTown. Yet hashtags like these do not necessarily have the effect that is intended. What often happens is that residents of those places pick up on the hashtags to demonstrate pride in their own regions. Whether they are used by tourists is another matter.
What doesn’t work? Using ridiculously broad hashtags is a waste of time for brands. Why include #weather, #holiday or #sun in your campaign when millions of other people will do the same?
I also have a personal dislike of random marketing-speak turned into hashtags. You’ll recognise one when you see one – #DareToBeDifferent, that sort of thing.
What brand marketers need to recognise is that hashtags should reflect the way people on social speak and act already rather than just trying to force a message down their throats. Hashtags that are seen as ways for brands to promote themselves will just not work, unless brands have something to bring to the social party, whether that’s 10 seconds of fun in the case of Oreo’s eclipse or a sense of pride from people who live in your region.