Hashtags are everywhere you look – from social media feeds and TV ads, to billboards and city buses.
It’s hard to believe that hashtags were once considered “too nerdy” for mainstream use on social media. Now we’re approaching hashtag overload, which means it’s increasingly important to find a way to cut through the noise and create a hashtag for your brand that is strong and relevant.
The Power (& the Pain) of the Hashtag
A great hashtag is one of the most powerful tools you can have in your marketing arsenal. With it, you can connect with your audience more easily, get discovered by new potential fans, and track and curate what people are posting about your brand.
Easy enough, right? How hard can it be to come up with something that’s only a few characters long?
Well… a little bit hard. Those deceptively simple hashtags you see catching on like wildfire actually take time and effort to create.
Figuring out how to create a hashtag that’s clear and branded is a common challenge we see with our clients. They’re using Photoslurp to collect and showcase photos customers are posting of their products across social media – letting these images sing their brand’s praises. But this requires one very important element: the right hashtag that people will remember and use.
Too general and it gets lost in the shuffle with similar topics. Too niche and it’s hard to remember. Too complicated and no one can get the spelling right. You’re looking for that Goldilocks of hashtags: the one that fits just right.
But don’t worry if that sounds like an intimidating prospect. In this article, we’re going to go over everything you need to create a hashtag for your brand -the prefect hashtag.
How to Create a Hashtag
For every spot-on, “I wish I’d thought of that” hashtag on social media, there are countless others that miss their mark entirely.
So what makes one hashtag a runaway hit and another instantly forgotten? What qualities go into a great hashtag?
Let’s take a closer look at the 9 rules of thumb to successfully create a hashtag for your brand.
1. Push past the early ideas
The first thing that’s important to mention is that you are going to have a lot of mediocre to bad ideas when you first start figuring out how to create a hashtag. Expect it, and prepare for it. There’s a reason there are so many “meh” hashtags out there: some frazzled social media manager or marketing director on a deadline published the first idea that came to mind.
But you’re going to move past this phase and get to the good stuff.
Give yourself room to get these lackluster hashtag ideas out of your system. However you work best – whiteboard brainstorming, mind-mapping, old-fashioned doodling – write ‘em all down. Don’t censor yourself in this phase, even if you’re embarrassed by some of your half-baked ideas.
Start with the obvious words associated with your brand, your products, your industry. Look at your competitors and see what they’re doing. Play with word and phrase combinations, then take a break if you can. Go marinate on the ideas you’ve come up with, then come back with fresh eyes later.
2. Define your intention
What is it that you want your customers to do with this hashtag?
Will they be taking selfies wearing the sunglasses from your new collection? Will they be posting pictures of the recipes they made with your baking equipment? Put yourself in your customers’ shoes, and focus on creating a hashtag that you can actually see them using.
Separate themes into different categories, and pay attention to the ones that catch your attention. Look at them as building blocks, and see how you can tweak and combine them for improvements.
For a very broad hashtag that could belong to any brand, how could you make it more tailored to your company or customers? For a hard-to-get hashtag, how could you open it up to make it more understandable?
Remember which characters are allowed in a hashtag as well: letters and numbers are fine, but punctuation marks (commas, periods, exclamation points) and special characters (asterisks, ampersands, dollar signs) are not.
3. Keep your audience in mind
The whole point of your hashtag building mission is to earn the attention and engagement of your customers. Keep them central to your efforts.
What do you already know about them? What do they like and dislike? What do they already talk and post about on social media? How do you think they will react to each hashtag you’re considering?
A hashtag has to be relevant to your community, or it will be met with confusion, annoyance or disdain. Show that you get them.
And make it clear that your brand will repost and give some social media love to the best user-generated photos. This is a win-win for both of you: your customers get exposure and potential new followers, and you, of course, get great authentic content.
4. Aim for short and sweet
There are exceptions, but most effective hashtags are concise and easy to understand at a glance.
Clarity is key. You won’t have time to explain a convoluted hashtag – your audience will have already moved on by then. Don’t be so focused on cleverness or creativity that you confuse people.
Play with a short phrase or just a few words. If you have a concept you love that’s too wordy, look for other ways to express it. Pare down that vocabulary, and get lean.
For the launch of its DreamTone serum, cosmetics brand Lancôme used the minimalist hashtag #BareSelfie to get its Instagram followers to post photos of themselves without make-up on. The hashtag only has 10 characters, but it’s simple and sticky, and it resonated with users.
Red Bull: #PutACanOnIt
Red Bull’s #PutACanOnIt campaign was inspired by a customer who posted a photo of a Red Bull can held above a Mini Cooper, making it look like it was the signature brand car. The brand asked other customers to get in on the silly fun, posting their own #PutACanOnIt photos, and the campaign won a Shorty Award for “Best Use of a Hashtag.”
5. Toy with their emotions
Simplicity is important in creating a hashtag, but that doesn’t mean you can’t explore more complex emotions and experiences. A hashtag that evokes a strong reaction or feeling in your audience is memorable and powerful – even if it doesn’t explicitly mention your company name at all.
Take a cue from brands that have done this brilliantly:
Ben & Jerry’s: #CaptureEuphoria
For the 2013 social media contest, Ben & Jerry’s urged customers to snap photos that convey the magical, exhilarating feeling you get when you enjoy the brand’s ice cream, using the hashtag #CaptureEuphoria. The company’s fans posted a lot of vibrant, evocative images, and 20 photographers got their photos featured in local ad campaigns.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, athletic clothing company lululemon continuously encourages customers to post photos of themselves with the hashtag #thesweatlife. The photos customers publish range from serene yoga poses to hardcore kickboxing workouts – but all evoke the feeling of a healthy and active lifestyle.
6. Research your short list
Narrow down your favorite hashtag ideas, and put together a short list of contenders. Once you have a solid selection, take time to research them thoroughly on social media. You’re looking for a hashtag that’s strongly associated with your brand, that you can track and monitor. For that to work, you want a hashtag you can own.
Are individuals or brands already using your ideas on any platform? If so, were they one-off posts or associated with a campaign?
The last thing you want is to unwittingly co-opt an existing hashtag – especially one that has nothing to do with your brand. This can be frustrating at best, or a PR disaster at worst.
Hashtag Fails to Learn From
It pays to do your homework – understanding what hashtags already exist and what they mean. Avoid ending up a cautionary tale like these brands; humiliating mistakes can be avoided with even cursory hashtag research.
DiGiorno is known for its quick-witted social media presence, but in this case, it was a little too fast on the draw. In 2014, #WhyIStayed was a trending hashtag. A video of an NFL player assaulting his wife had been leaked online, sparking an emotional conversation about domestic violence. People were using the hashtag to discuss the reasons they stayed with abusive partners, but DiGiorno used the hashtag for this tweet:
Naturally, it did not go over well. There was immediate backlash from people who accused the brand of mocking the plight of abuse survivors to promote its products. Not at all the kind of attention you want for your brand on social media.
DiGiorno apologized profusely, but the gaffe made the company look either extremely careless or intentionally insensitive.
In 2011, when Twitter was all abuzz after Casey Anthony was found not guilty in the death of her daughter, snack brand Entenmann’s tweeted: “Who’s #notguilty about eating all the tasty treats they want?!”
Amid public outcry, the brand backpedaled rapidly, deleting the tweet and apologizing: “Our #notguilty tweet was insensitive, albeit completely unintentional. We are sincerely sorry.” But by that point, the damage was already done.
7. Look for potential problems
This is another crucial step you can’t afford to skip. Examine your hashtag closely for any possible problems.
Write it out in all lowercase characters. Read it out loud. Ask other people on your team to do the same. Note where you stumble or have to do a double take.
Ask different people to write the hashtag when you dictate it to them (without them seeing it written down). Does anyone struggle with its spelling, pronunciation or meaning?
Margaret Thatcher vs. Cher
When Margaret Thatcher died in 2013, an ambiguous hashtag caused the Internet to believe another famous person had died. The hashtag #NowThatchersDead could also be read #NowThatChersDead, spreading rumors that about the singer’s death, when she was very much still alive.
This is also a time when it pays to be completely immature. Give yourself permission to put your mind in the gutter.
Look at your hashtag from the perspective of a 13 year old or the most sarcastic person on social media. Is there any way it could be misinterpreted or read differently than you intend? Is there any innuendo or association hidden in that hashtag that will come back to haunt you later?
Susan Boyle’s Album Release
In 2012, Susan Boyle was releasing a new album and her team posted a tweet using a hashtag intended to be #SusanAlbumParty. Unfortunately, when that hashtag is written in all lowercase letters, it can be interpreted with a very different meaning. The campaign got a lot of attention, but not exactly in the way the team had hoped.
8. Run it by a wider audience
Before you open your hashtag up to the public, run it by a few key people outside your team first. Do a gut check with people who are representative of your target audience – especially across languages, cultures, age groups or other important demographics.
Do they get it? What does it mean to them? Can they see themselves remembering and using it?
Once you have their buy-in, you can move forward with more confidence.
9. Promote it like crazy
Congratulations! You’ve mastered the art of hashtag building, and you’re ready to release your creation out into the world.
And you? Do you have a good (or bad) experience with hashtags that you want to tell us about? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!