What’s in a Hashtag? 4 Ways a Hashtag Can Drive Your Brand Story

Social Media Marketing


So you just put together an amazing marketing campaign idea and you covered all the marketing elements except…the hashtag. How many times have you added a hashtag to a campaign simply because it’s a social marketing best practice? When done right, a hashtag is more than an add-on, or a way to listen in on consumer conversations. At its best, a hashtag can also be the driving force behind your campaign and brand story.

So what’s the difference between “acceptable” hashtags, and hashtags that really get the job done? The next time you’re creating a hashtag, ask yourself if it meets these four criteria:

1. On Topic

A broad hashtag can help organize and group together content, but if you want to tell a specific story or incite a specific consumer action tied to your brand, use a hashtag that is highly relevant to your brand identity or mission.

Zappos recently launched an online customer service marketing program central to the hashtag #AskZappos. The campaign allows customers to seek out products by curating photos using the designated hashtag. In return, they receive real-time responses from Zappos, who tracks down the product for the customer. This hashtag is not just part of the campaign – it also reflects their customer-focused culture and loyalty-based business model.

instagram zappos

2. Easy to Understand

You can extend the shelf life of your campaign with a simple hashtag that is relatively easy for your customers to act on. For example, if your brand is hosting an event, it is typical to use a hashtag that abbreviates the event’s name. But that means your hashtag only last as long as the event, and will only resonate with a small audience. Brands that “get it” provide their consumers an opportunity to participate in the brand’s story for a longer period of time.

Everlane’s #WhereITravel Instagram campaign tied their travel and clothing products to the experience of jetsetting, encouraging their community to share their travel experiences with Everlane. The hashtag started in summer 2014, and continues to receive new Instagram uploads from all over the world, attracting the type of travelers who are their likely target customers. As of today, Everlane has collected more than 14,400 photos curated under #WhereITravel.

where i travel instragram

3. Unique to Your Brand

Check to see if the hashtag you are considering has been used for anything else. Are there other conversations cluttering the space? What stories do those conversations convey? You don’t want your brand’s message to get lost in all the other user content.

Mercedes-Benz USA ran a full social media campaign (primarily on Instagram) to highlight the new Mercedes CLA for a millennial audience – consumers born between the early 1980s and early 2000s. For their campaign, Take The Wheel, the brand enlisted five influential photographers for a five day trip across the U.S. in the car, posting on-the-road photos with the hashtag #CLATakeTheWheel, and challenging them to compete for “likes”. Unlike the hashtag #TakeTheWheel, which already had a number of existing photos unrelated to their brand story, Mercedes went with #CLATakeTheWheel, which was unique to Mercedes. Today, consumers who purchase the CLA often showcase their car on Instagram under #CLATakeTheWheel.

take the wheel twitter

4. Hashtag Tested

A hashtag can seem innocent, but the internet is a big place – which means you should expect multiple interpretations of your hashtag. We’ve seen hashtags go horribly wrong. Think about McDonald’s, who launched #McDStories, aiming to encourage consumers to share light-hearted, positive stories. In short order, the hashtag was used to catalog consumer horror stories and complaints.

mcdonalds twitter

Next time you select a campaign, whether it is to amplify your message or curate user generated content, consider how it can extend your brand story or persona and encourage long-term engagement with your brand.

What is your favorite hashtag campaign? Or a hashtag horror story? Share it with us in the comments below.