How the hashtag has influenced marketing

What started as a simple tool for grouping similar topics of conversation has over the years become the go-to symbol for all things social media related. Whether it’s used to follow the latest industry trends, gain followers or even simply to be ironic, the hashtag has become a central tenet of the online world. But why has the hashtag become so popular, what are our favourite hashtag moments and what would the marketing world do without them? OTB has the answers…

A SHORT HISTORY

Although the hashtag is best known for its social media usage, in particular on Twitter, this hasn’t always been the case. According to AdWeek the hashtag symbol first began being used in its current form as a way to group items together on Internet Relay Chat in the 1990s, but it wasn’t until 2007 that designer Chris Messina asked his Twitter followers what they thought of using the hashtag in this way on the social media platform. When hashtags became clickable in 2009, the current explosion of shareable, traceable social media data was born, and oh how the trend has grown.

THE BEST HASHTAGGING AROUND

Recently Barbadian rum brand Malibu collaborated with social media gurus Mashable to create a roundup of the best hashtags ever, ‘from the ones we use all the time to trending terms that have been at the heart of some of the most exciting global conversations happening via social media.’

Among Malibu’s favourites were #OOTD, (Outfit Of The Day, for anyone not in the know), which they claim to be among one of the most essential for anyone interested in fashion, street style or simply enthusiastic about sharing their outfit choices. A quick Twitter search for #OOTD brings streams of rich content from individuals and celebrities alike, with a tweet by US actress Victoria Justice receiving 3.3k favourites in just over 8 hours for her latest outfit update.

Another hashtag highlight seems to be #selfie, which has only further contributed to the phenomenal rise of this craze which has now become a part of everyday vocabulary for many. Whether it’s the latest pop song declaring ‘But first, let me take a selfie’, or U.S President Barack Obama finding time to take a selfie with Bear Grylls on his latest PR tour in Alaska, the social media world seems to be #selfiecentral.

A HASHTAG FUTURE FOR MARKETING

While all this social media and popular culture use of the hashtag may seem a little cliquey and simply another element of 21st century digitalisation, the rise of the hashtag has some important implications for marketing. With the need to engage with and create a dialogue between brands and consumers seen to be one of the most important marketing staples of recent years, social media has proven to be a useful platform for connecting with audiences and customers.

At the start of 2015 Forbes published an article outlining how brands could use hashtags to generate greater brand engagement. Although as the article points out there can be a number of pitfalls to avoid such as using hashtags simply for their own sake, Forbes is right to claim that when done correctly with a tangible aim in mind hashtags can work wonders for a brand. Good examples to follow include Coca Cola’s#MakeItHappy which purposefully targeted millennials, who are known to engage in large numbers with brands which are socially responsible, have the highest internet usage rates and who are used to accessing information via social media.

Other strong examples of marketing campaigns which have used hashtags successfully include the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a U.S non-profit organisation which arranges experience days for children with life-threatening medical conditions. In 2013 the foundation traced the experience day of five year old Miles, who became a superhero for the day in San Francisco. Using the hashtag #SFBatKid people around the world were able to follow Miles’ story on social media, and it is estimated that the story generated 1.7 billion social impressions, with tweets coming from 117 countries and traffic to the Make-A-Wish Foundation site reaching a peak of 1,400 hits per second during the campaign.

It is clear that despite its relatively humble origins, the hashtag has become a social media staple which has not only become central to popular culture and casual social media usage but can also be translated into huge value for marketers. If used correctly, it is possible to use hashtags to increase awareness and engagement with your brand, and clear that they can deliver a strong return on investment for your organisation from its social media strategy.

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