Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a way to categorize almost every written thing on the internet?

Enter the #hashtag.

While most of us know the humble hashtag in the present context, a nifty tool to label on the internet, it was first used in the early days of information in the 1970s. For example, the C programming language used the # for special keywords.

Created in 1988. The Internet Relay Chat (IRC) networks also used the hash to represent channels, groups, and topics. This later inspired the beginning of the hashtag today.

On August 23, 2007, Chris Messina best known as an Open Source Advocate and inspired by its use in IRC, posted the first hashtag on Twitter.

“How do you feel about using # (pound) for groups? As in #barcamp [msg]?”

Though initially Twitter thought hashtags were too “nerdy” the use of the hashtag spread like wildfire and soon it became the norm.

Other social media platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook adopted the hashtag soon after. Even Google search has the feature.

Hashtags are so pervasive nowadays. It has now become the best tool for individuals and companies to interact with people, start and maintain conversations and a means to promote products to new people.

Let’s take a look at some of the most successful social media campaigns from these well-known brands that perfectly integrated the right hashtags.

Successful Hashtag Campaigns from the Big Brands

#PutACanOnIt 2015
Red Bull actually won the “Best Use of a Hashtag” Shorty Award for this campaign. Interestingly, it started when the people from Red Bull discovered a photo on Twitter of a Red Bull can held in front of a Mini Cooper that was parked a few meters away. It turned the car into a Red Bull Mini So what did Red Bull do? They made a hashtag for it and got people involved. Within a few months, there were 10,000 #PutACanOnIt photos on Instagram and Twitter. Even up to now, people use the hashtag consistently when posting Red Bull photos on social media. This is every marketing firm’s dream.

#ShareACoke 2014
Who can better come up with one of the most successful hashtag campaigns than Coke? In general, Coke’s commercials make it big year after year. They hit you with just the right amount of emotions to share their media content. They also blended their offline and online campaign perfectly with the hashtag #ShareACoke by releasing new bottles with people’s names on them coupled with the hashtag. The entire campaign engaged so many people it boosted their sales growth by 30%. They also pulled in 28% more customers compared to the same period during the previous year. Their 2014 campaign cycle had customers sharing their personal experiences over 250,000.

#MyCalvins 2015
Who’s in for some sexy campaign? Last year, Calvin Klein pulled off the #MyCalvins campaign on Instagram. Users were encouraged to post their own mirror selfies or well curated photo wearing CK underwear. Really sexy. Just imagine the response. The result? An astonishing 200,000 posts using the hashtag for that campaign alone. But if you view the hashtag now, it has more than doubled to 430,000 plus and it continues to grow. This highly successful campaign grew their social media followers with 2.2 million for Facebook 1.8 million for Instagram and one million for Twitter during the campaign period. It reached 469 million fans all over the world and garnered 23.5 million fan interactions.

It may seem a no brainer these campaigns will become successful because, to begin with, these are global brands with millions of followers around the globe. It’s easy for their followers to get in on the #hashtag because they trust the brand and people are responsive to fun and engaging campaigns. But data showed that with the proper execution, these brands performed better than their competitors in overall exposure and sales. That’s the end goal of it all.

What does this mean for smaller business owners or start up brands? Their data are just as useful to you. Their use and application of hashtags within their marketing campaigns could potentially affect your own campaigns the way it did for them. You may have little to no following, but the beauty of using hashtags is that people go through the hashtags feed they see on Instagram or Twitter and they view and interact with what interests them.

Types of Hashtags in 2016

  1. Event centric – Most companies will use an event name followed by the year the event is held to (EventNameYear) consolidate and assort all the photos within that hashtag. Concerts organizers use this a lot. There’s also another form of event-driven hashtags, which are event happenings.
    Ex. the #MarsLanding of NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover. Although not exactly a hashtag campaign, Oreo took the opportune moment to celebrate the Mars landing which was truly a creative act.
  2. Branded – Most brands utilize a phrase unique to them or use a hashtag borrowed from their own slogans.
    Ex. #JustDoIt, #ShareACoke #PerfectPepsi
  3. Dates – As simple as getting in on the #july4 could possibly benefit you if you find a connection for your brand with the date but if you really have some creative ideas, you could go as far as niche-specific dates and get in on the action.
    Ex. #MayThe4thBeWithYou that Star Wars geeks all over the world celebrate by posting pictures of their Star Wars collection, cosplay, or performing the heinous act of suffocating someone            else using the #darkforce
  4. Trending – Some hashtags are really well thought of to spark a conversation and harness huge amounts of wit. It will be extremely advantageous if your brand gets in on the action as long as it relates with your brand’s voice.
    Ex. #AddAWordRuinAMovie whomever this brilliant hashtag originated from, the world has to thank him/her for the creative deed. If you could get your brand to participate in the battle of the wits, you could rip the benefits well.
  5. General – words and general phrases have landed hundreds of millions of hashtags altogether. While they are extremely popular such as #quotes or #beachbody you’d want your post to have a hashtag that will generate the returns you want. These are the hashtags that you will use for your daily posts that are not necessarily campaign driven.
  6. Abbreviated hashtags – groups of words or phrases that have been popularized by users.
    Ex. #ootd #tbt #ff #qotd

Either you are running a hashtag campaign or just tagging your social media posts, the above types should help you understand the applications for each hashtag and how you can properly utilize them.

Important Tips

  1. Be consistent. When you decide to use a hashtag for a particular cause, business or event, don’t keep changing it. If it’s #PartyAllNight, don’t modify it into #PartyAllNight2016 or #PartyAllNightLong and make sure everybody on your team complies.
  2. #CapitalizeEachWord to make it easier to read. #doesntitmakesense?
  3. Use trending topics to maximize your reach. Your industry most likely has the hashtag you need to connect with people and groups. Research on the social media platform’s engines or use a social media tool to find out which topics or hashtags are applicable to you. For instance, Zoomsphere has an improved Social Media Feed module wherein you can check for mentions and even hashtags surrounding the word or phrase, and track it for future references.
  4. Keep it short and simple. This perhaps is paramount for startup companies and brands. You want your hashtag to resonate with a certain niche within your industry yet delivering the perfect message of your brand. You want your hashtag to be very easy to think and search for and not some jargon or word mashup that will not bring you the desired results. If for example, you are selling blankets, you’d probably want your hashtags to resonate with comfort or various adjectives that best describe your blankets. An idea for a hashtag could be #SuperSoft #SuperPlush that refer to your post.
  5. Don’t go #crazy with #hashtags. Three in a #post should be your maximum.
  6. Hashtags can also be used to highlight words in your posts. This is especially useful for lengthy posts. Strategically placed hashtags will call attention to the word and will increase the chances of your post being read all the way through and not be commented with the dreaded tl:dr
  7. Come up with a group of hashtags that best describes your brand. If you’re in fashion, using #ootd, #FashionWeek #WokeUpLikeThis could be relevant to you. And consistently use them without overdoing them in your post or keep one or a few that maximizes your reach. Chances are if you someone in the world keeps browsing #ootds and you’re in the fashion industry, you’ll get the desirable likes or retweets you are after.
  8. If you’re running an event and using social media to support your event or promotion, don’t forget to use your hashtag for your posters or print materials. This encourages your customers to check up on the hashtag, especially if it’s unique to your brand, the more beneficial it will be for you.
  9. Reciprocate to others using the same hashtag. Visit the hashtags feed yourself and see what others are posting. Engage into a conversation. In the process, you will discover valuable insights that the competitors might be doing, or what the industry leaders are doing that you can improve on.

Some Insights

If you use the right hashtags, you could expect twice the increase in engagement in your posts as opposed to not using any because hashtags are relatable by the majority. You could expect more likes, retweets, and shares in your posts. However, some data show that using too many hashtags could actually have a drop in your engagement. However, some say otherwise too. But the ideal path to go is trial and error. No one rule applies for all brands and perhaps you may even discover for yourself a new tactic in using or applying hashtags.

My Final Thoughts

What keywords are to Search Engine Optimization is what hashtags are to Social Media Marketing. Hashtags are meant to complement your overall objective. However, first and foremost, you have to determine if a hashtag campaign alone will fulfill your marketing objectives. Or perhaps you just need the right hashtag to supplement another main objective, which is to collect leads or increase video views. Will a hashtag really help you with that? But if you want to spark a long-lasting engagement like it did for many brands, a hashtag will forever reside in the search tools of social media networks. Long after the campaign has passed, people can keep viewing that hashtag and perhaps will have another use for it in the future. Millions of hashtags are already floating in the interwebs and true enough there’s a hashtag for that.