Although hashtags are still mostly associated with Twitter, their use has become a lot more widespread, especially with natural hashtag integration in such sites and mobile apps as Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest. It is widely accepted that (Twitter) hashtag was invented by Chris Messina on August 23, 2007 (not a Twitter employee) a year after Twitter was established.
Hashtag is a tag embedded in a message posted in social media, consisting of a word within the message prefixed with a hash sign (e.g. a joke followed by #lol or description of a bad customer service experience followed by #fail), to allow for easier topic search and aggregation. The hashtag is usually included in updates as a hyperlink and when clicked the user will see recent chronological updates using that hashtag, regardless of whether they are following the content creator or not.
Some of the biggest sites that currently accept/use hashtags: Twitter (160m users), Youtube (800m users), Google+ (150m users), Instagram (30m users), Tumblr (34m users), Pinterest (31m users)
- You cannot own or control a hashtag, anyone can use it or abuse it (by hijacking the tag and turning it into a "bashtag" e.g. #qantasluxury or #McDStories)
- It is estimated that more than 10% of all tweets contain hashtags
- In the recent NBC Universal Social TV symposium, Twitter VP of Global Brand Strategy Joel Lunenfeld claimed 1 in 5 commercials now contain a hashtag
- Just as social activists are using hashtags to join the movement, oppressive governments use Twitter bots (automated/spam accounts) to inundate them with junk tweets making them less and less useful to track the topics (e.g. #tibet and #freetibet)
- Brands are increasingly adopting use of hashtags in their campaigns to:
- create a centralized discussion around their latest campaign or content (e.g. #MTVskins)
- promote competition (e.g. use #absolutlondon tag with photo of London to enter)
- crowdsource content or ideas from customers and fans (e.g. Brisk Ice tea Instagram hashtag #briskpic) o popularize event (e.g. Annual TED conference #TED2012)
- reach an existing audience discussing an event, TV show or natural disaster to offer relevant information or opportunities (e.g. airlines used #ashcloud to update stranded passengers during the chaos caused by the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull)
- Whilst it is very easy to integrate hashtags in campaign collateral, brands should be well prepared for crisis scenario planning, having a clear process in place when things go wrong (as they often do in social media)
- Another popular approach for brands to gain momentum and join the social media conversation is via association to specific events that are trending in real time, like Magnum Ice cream did with #royalwedding last year in US and Rexona is doing with #noquit around #F1 race days in 2012
- Blogger and prominent Instagram user Fat Mum Slim is using hashtags to create a community around a monthly photo challenge (#janphotoaday, #febphotoaday, #marchphotoaday, #photoadayapril). With over half a million photos submitted to the Instagram hashtag each month, the hashtag gives the challenge context, accessibility for outsiders to join the community and a valid reason to reengage – something brands have yet to replicate with sponsored content. This has expanded to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr and Flickr.
Use of hashtags is not a natural platform for brands to activate their marketing and social media campaigns, mainly due to lack of control over the content that it can be associated with. It can lead to consumers hijacking brand tags and changing topic of conversation and sometimes even turning it against the brand itself as has been the case for McDonald’s and Qantas as of late. Despite the watch outs, we can expect that more and more brands will trial use of hashtags in their social media campaigns due to sheer scale and widespread use of it among consumers. #didyouknow
Authors: Ivars Krutainis, Mandi Bateson