Getting to Grips with the Hashtag

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If there’s one digital marketing tool that Zimbabwean brands have embraced with open arms, it’s the hashtag. Nowadays, it’s very unusual to come across any brand communications that don’t include a hashtag, from print adverts to social media posts…to radio adverts! We have fallen into certain habits when using hashtags for brands, but what is the true purpose of a hashtag and how is it best used to strengthen a brand?

While hashtags are a recent local marketing obsession, the hashtag was created by Twitter over a decade ago. The purpose of a hashtag is to serve as a directory system of sorts; helping users to quickly find social media posts about a certain theme. With the true function of a hashtag in mind, remember these three tips to make sure that the way you use hashtags in your communications is making a positive impact on your brand:

Beware of branding a hashtag. Hashtags were designed to make it easier to follow and participate in a conversation about a topic. If your brand takes an existing hashtag, such as #HarareCarnival, and adds its brand name to that hashtag – e.g. #TatendaBusesHarareCarnival, you have separated your brand from the conversation. Those who search for posts about Harare Carnival will not see your posts unless they know and want to look for your hashtag, and your voice will be missing from the conversation. The only time you should brand a hashtag is if you are using it to track a competition, or you have the budget to promote a branded hashtag.

Don’t hijack conversations you shouldn’t. On social media, trending hashtags come with the territory. However, your brand may find itself in the middle of a PR crisis if you jump into conversations in an inappropriate way or without credibility. The solution? Always do your research! Understand where a hashtag came from and what it means, before deciding if it’s right for your brand to add its voice to the conversation. Your brand’s participation must always feel credible- joining a trending hashtag about a social injustice in order to sell your product will always be taken badly and may alienate your desired customer.

Ensure your hashtag is easily understood. One of the simplest ways to do this is to ensure that every word in the hashtag is capitalised- #TatendaBusesHarareCarnival is easier to read than #tatendabuseshararecarnival. Your hashtag also has more power when it’s not floating in a sea of four or five other branded hashtags. Aside from promotional hashtags or joining trending conversations, pick a winner and use it consistently.

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