Hashtags are widely popular and increasingly important in marketing and advertising. It’s a way to invite conversation and monitor feedback on a specific campaign. In some cases, brands create a hashtag and live-tweet along with a TV show or an event like the Super Bowl to engage with fans and potential customers. Other times, a company has coined a hashtag to match a new product launch or rebrand. While these instances can have positive, awareness-building effects, we often hear about the times a company got it wrong. What happened? Who did it right? Most importantly, how can you avoid those same mistakes and have a successful campaign?
1. Do your research.
First things first, you must do some research well before your launch. Have a few options of hashtags in mind and then do a quick Google search. Has anyone used them before? In what context? If your chosen hashtag has gotten a lot of use in the past, it’s not a great idea to claim it for your campaign. It could lead to confusion or an undesirable response.
For example, Burger King announced its new, lower calorie French fries back in 2013. The marketing team chose to use the hashtag #WTFF which, in their minds, stands for What the French Fry. However, that hashtag was already widely used and in an entirely different context. This led to confusion, inappropriate commentary and embarrassment for the company. A quick search would have led BK to use a different hashtag.
2. Make it simple and relevant.
Hashtags work best when they’re short and simple. They need to make sense with the brand’s identity and be easy to remember. Pick something that’s unique,. It’s even better if it flows as part of a longer campaign slogan or sentence.
When CVS Health announced its rebrand and decision to remove tobacco products from its pharmacies, the campaign asked people to tweet their #OneGoodReason to live tobacco-free. This campaign worked for a number of reasons: it focused on the positive aspects of going tobacco-free and it left little room for confusion or misinterpretation. Of course, it didn’t hurt that First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted her #OneGoodReason, too.
— The First Lady (@FLOTUS) September 3, 2014
3. Keep your messaging at the forefront.
Be clear on what you want the audience to do. Announcing hashtags through on-screen or digital ads is one way to go. Build context around the hashtag before it gets out of control.
The feminine products company Always built a campaign around the hashtag #LikeAGirl. They aired video advertisements, including one during the Super Bowl in 2015, that asked young girls, women and men, what it meant to behave, run or play sports “like a girl”. This started a conversation about perspective, confidence and self-esteem. The company and its fans were reclaiming the once insulting phrase “like a girl” and making it one of empowerment and strength. From there, Always included #LikeAGirl in its advertisements and social posts to maintain control over the conversation.
Of course, there will always be backlash or negative comments, but the response to the #LikeAGirl campaign only proved how important the conversation was. Always was prepared and stuck by their messaging.
On the other hand, McDonald’s launched a campaign to offer a behind-the-scenes look at its suppliers. It dubbed #MeettheFarmers as the campaign hashtag. However, a few tweets later, they included #McDStories. Naturally, fans and haters alike jumped on the chance to share their funny, scary and downright horrifying #McDStories, rather than join the conversation about wholesome food and real farmers. The hashtag was far too vague and inviting for the Twitterverse to leave it alone. Even worse, it included the company’s name making it really difficult for McDonald’s to pull away.
4. Have a backup plan.
As you can see, companies and organizations must be prepared for responses that question their brand or messaging.
Honey Maid did this well. Two years ago, the company launched a new ad campaign around #ThisIsWholesome. They shared videos of families eating, playing and laughing together. However, these families didn’t represent the traditional family that is seen in most ads: white and straight. They came in all forms, races, and sexual orientation. The response was wonderful, but there were plenty of negative comments as well. Honey Maid knew this would happen and faced it head on with a follow-up ad. They stayed on message and acknowledged the supporters of their message as well as those who disagreed.
When you create a campaign, don’t assume everyone will be on board. Plan for the fallout; have a way to respond that doesn’t detract from what you’re selling or who you are. Better yet, do your research ahead of time. Ask lots (and lots) of people what they think of when they hear the hashtag or what they’d expect to accompany it. And don’t be the next #TwitterFail.