Does it ever strike you as strange that the website url has spawned a global multi-billion dollar industry, yet the conversational currency of the millennial, the hashtag, costs you nothing?
But it looks like the adage that what’s free is never valued has become the case, as we set up, promote and abandon hashtags with alarming regularity.
Back in August 2007, when Chris Messina made initial suggestions on the use of the hashtag to group conversations on Twitter, it would have been hard to imagine that the hashtag would have moved from online identifier to (often ironic) everyday language, and that we would become used to every cause, event and campaign having one.
But from a brand perspective what happens to the poor hashtag? We’re implored to use them and we sense that us doing so somehow lends credit to the cause, event or campaign, but the risk is that we’re just adding to the outbound noise that has no context and, as a consequence, no value.
As ever, good thinking really stands out. As the footwear of choice for protest movements over many decades, Dr Martens’ 2014 #StandForSomething campaign neatly blended the shoes with causal belief and self identity, as the short film created for the campaign celebrates: Watch it here
Find our photobooth van on The Hayes today from 10am-4pm and get 20% off in our Cardiff store. #STANDFORSOMETHING
— Dr. Martens (@drmartens) June 3, 2015
ODD, the agency behind the campaign explain: ‘With the current economic and social backdrop lending itself to people wanting to use the way they dress as a way of expressing their own culture, identity and beliefs, it seemed the perfect opportunity for Dr. Martens, the original British icon of subversion, to ask: What do you stand for? The campaign saw an uplift in sales by March 2014 and a search of Twitter reveals that consumers are still engaging with the hashtag and posting their thoughts over a year later’.
But for the majority, hashtags have become the disposable decoration that every campaign demands. On the face of it, the lack of a global registration system and the costs that come with it suggest that there is no risk to churning out hashtags as a campaign feature or identifier. But the reality is very different. The only way to own a hashtag is to create the immediate and ongoing connection with your brand, products or services, so the huge risk is that the cycle of disposable campaign hashtags result in a huge commercial opportunity squandered.
Tips for increasing your hashtag equity today
In summary here are a few tips to help you ensure you are making the most of your hashtag:
1. Get your hashtag right - Deborah Sweeney’s 2012 thoughts still stand.
Your hashtag is ideally short, distinctive enough to be audience defining and reflects and builds a brand, product or service truth.
2. Give your hashtag life. Business needs are broad and changing. Marketing activity reflects this, but through it all make sure that the core brand hashtag is consistent, builds equity over time and becomes synonymous.
3. Give your hashtag a home - make sure that your hashtag isn’t just a form of futile window dressing, you can do this by bringing the best of the advocacy content that you’re stimulating back to the place where consumers engage, your brand website. (Forrester’s November 2014 study confirms that US consumers and 3 times as likely to connect with a brand on their website than they are on the brand’s Facebook page).
With the best user-generated content from all networks on your website your audience is no longer excluded from the conversation just because they’re not a user of a specific social network.
In the egalitarian world of everyone having a published point of view it’s your audience that defines your ownership. Once their online language implicitly connects them to your brand through your hashtag you have that ownership. The task is simple enough but requires discipline and a plan. The outcome will be worth it; a no-cost identifier that becomes invaluable as nobody can wrest it from you.