To Hashtag Or Not To Hashtag? The Industry Weighs In

To Hashtag Or Not To Hashtag? The Industry Weighs In

Marketing newsflash! People on social media aren’t just waiting to ‘engage’ with your brand, says Luke Brown, CEO of tech driven advertising and media agency Affinity. For him, using hashtags in campaigns is a “sadly misguided tactic”.

Emma Mackenzie
Posted by Emma Mackenzie

“It’s a bit like the Facebook likes desperation of yesteryear,” he told B&T. “So much energy for no meaningful gain.

“Let’s face it, hashtags are a way for people to classify a post, opinion or piece of content, a taxonomy of sorts. This could be big news event, something funny, something snide, but their purpose is for social platforms to help you find something of interest more easily.

“If you’re selling a holiday, sliced bread, or washing detergent, you’re going to get the same level of engagement as you do from any other marketing, which is to say a response from a few per cent of your total reach.

“Here’s the newsflash, people aren’t a brand ‘audience’ and they’re not eagerly waiting to ‘engage’ with your brand. If you reach a huge number of people great! If they use your hashtag, super! Will your brand become a viral superstar? Highly unlikely. And you have to ask yourself was there something smarter and more valuable you could have asked your target to do?”

Brown’s comments come off the back of an opinion piece published on digital website Digiday, where author Neil James stressed no brand ever actually needs a hashtag in their campaigns.

Not everyone agrees hashtags are codswallop though, with Sam Snowden, account director at social media agency Thinktank Social stressing a hashtag in a campaign is “essential”.

“We live in an integrated society where users connect and share their experiences with brands from their mobile devices,” he said. “Therefore, in my opinion a hashtag is essential to all campaigns and as important as a tagline, call to action and website URL in any above the line advertising.”

Unsurprisingly, Twitter is pretty keen on brands using the hashtag, with Twitter Australia brand strategist Grant Baxter explaining how hashtags provide context for a brand.

Baxter’s prime example is for Virgin Mobile’s #mealformeal campaign, saying it “captured the altruistic nature of the campaign in a simple way”.

“It provided an immediate explanation of the mechanic and importantly, what the brand was asking of the consumer,” he said. “That went a long way to ensuring participation. #mealforameal also started a conversation around the issue of food wastage in Australia and that for me, is a standout of this use of a hashtag.”

Both Baxter and Affinity’s Brown agree hashtags are useful search tools, however Brown said they tend to work really well in social situations and events, not campaigns, specifically pinpointing the #AbbottLovesAnal trend floating around the Twittersphere from when Q&A accidentally let slip a rather risqué Twitter handle onto the program on Monday night.

“Campaign hashtags in big brand campaigns on the other hand are wooden and awkward by definition,” said Brown. “Given the limited time and budget you have to meet all of your goals for the year, maybe getting a few hundred people mentioning you to their friends, more often than not purely to cash in on the incentive you have to give them to mention you in the first place, doesn’t stack up to meeting your business goals.”

However, everyone was in agreement if brands decide a hashtag is for them, it needs to be used properly.

“Where I would say it becomes a problem is if a brand sets out to use a hashtag to become a brand in itself, I think that’s when you tend to have issues with it,” said Twitter’s Baxter.

Sam Mutimer, another account director from Thinktank Social, said: “If a hashtag is integrated into a campaign well, for example, communicating to the user when and why to use it…what they will get out of it, as well as the brand using it in communications, then it can be a very powerful tool.

“The days of popping a hashtag onto any form of media without a reason why/call to action are going, however we are PRO campaign hashtags to lead or support the brand hashtag such as tracking, insights, awareness and leads.”

If a brand is using a hashtag just because they feel like they should be, all hell breaks loose.

“The use of each depends on the objective of the campaign, and all too often branded hashtags aren’t aligned with an objective,” said Amy Broadfood, audience and influence director at AnalogFolk.

“Hashtags can be powerful discovery and activation tools, but brands must use them wisely.”

Affinity’s Brown isn’t convinced though. “Ironically it makes the brand feel out of touch and you’ve got to question the value of the call to action for the bottom line,” he said.

“The only caveat is you may have some other strategic motive for including a hashtag like… trying to be ironic? No marketer can predict or even meaningfully influence what will trend.”