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Ask the Pit Crew: How Do You Develop a Successful Hashtag Campaign?

successful hashtag campaign

Members of the Pole Position Marketing pit crew answer your web marketing questions from their unique perspectives, with a “bonus lap” by a guest industry pro.

Have a question you’d like answered? Ask the pit crew!

Today’s Question: How do you develop a successful hashtag campaign to promote a product or event?

Julie Graff’s Answer from a Social Media & Content Perspective:

Everybody has a hashtag campaign, so you have one too, right? In the immortal words of Wayne Campbell, NOT!


Sorry, couldn’t resist.  I’m a child of the ’90s. Anyway, getting a hashtag campaign to catch on can be difficult, so if you’re doing it just to do it, just DON’T. Ask yourself why you want to implement a hashtag campaign. If you’re hoping to get found, you are better off using a hashtag people already search on. Websites like Hashtagify.me can help you find the best hashtags for your industry.

Trying to encourage engagement? Well, then you may be on the right track. But it can still be rough going. Here are a few tips:

  1. Know your audience. What are they talking about? What are their pain points? What are their inside jokes? Keying into that information can make the difference between a hashtag campaign that “goes viral” and one that goes nowhere. A good example is Travelocity’s #iWannaGo campaign, which is discussed in Social Media Examiner’s Six Tips For a Killer Hashtag Marketing Campaign
  2. Keep the hashtag short, easy to spell and unique so people can remember it and use it correctly. For an event, use the event name or acronym. For instance, the popular search marketing conference Search Marketing Expo utilizes the simple hashtag #SMX.
  3. Promote, promote, promote. Put it on EVERYTHING – social media, your blog, even “offline” material. For example, for an event, put it in any blog articles about the event, email invites, social media posts, the registration page and printed agendas. Remind attendees to use it to tweet that they’ve registered (“I’m going to #SMX!”), to share bits of wisdom from the event and when they post event photos online. Andy Crestodina has many more great ideas below in the Bonus Lap. For products, suggest that they take a picture with the product using the hashtag. You could even have a contest for the best photo. Start early, before the event or product is even officially launched.
  4. Proceed with caution. The internet is full of cautionary tales of companies that hijacked the wrong hashtag or whose home grown hashtag campaigns went WAY WRONG (Hello, #McDStories). Don’t become one of those cautionary tales!

A successful hashtag campaign doesn’t happen by luck. Just like anything else worth having, you have to prepare and work at it, and there is still no guarantee your hashtag campaign will take off. But by using these tips, you’ll put your campaign in the best position for success.

Kathy Gray’s Answer from a Social Media Perspective:

Julie gives some great advice above for a successful hashtag campaign. Here are two main areas where I see hashtag campaigns fail.

1. Running a Hashtag Campaign, Not a Marketing Campaign

As often happens with social media marketing, companies tend to jump on the bandwagon without first thinking about why they’re doing it or if it even make sense for their business. I can’t tell you how often I’ve had a client say, “We need to be doing a hashtag campaign. Can you start one for us?” Upon further exploration, they usually want to do a hashtag campaign because they’ve seen their competitor use hashtags on social posts or they think it’s what you’re supposed to do on social media. Rarely does it tie-in with a marketing or business plan.

Start first with your marketing goals. What are you trying to achieve? And then, does a hashtag component fit with the overall goals and objectives of your marketing campaign. Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, commonly known as PSL, is a prime example. It’s been a popular Fall Starbucks menu item for over ten years, well before hashtags became a part of everyday life. When launching the annual drink, did Starbucks think about launching a hashtag campaign alone? No. Instead of starting with the hashtag #PSL and creating the marketing campaign around the hashtag, they created the marketing campaign and integrated it with their overall plans.

2. Choosing the Wrong Hashtag

Let’s use the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte example again. I happen to be a big fan. 🙂 There are many options the Starbucks team could have chosen: #StarbucksPSL, #PumpkinSpiceLatte, #StarbucksPumpkinSpiceLatte, #PSLlove, etc. Part of what’s made their choice of #PSL so successful is that it’s easy to remember, it’s quick to type and doesn’t take up valuable character space on social media. The longer the hashtag, #themorelikelypeoplewontuseit or #peoplewontbeabletodecipherit.

Another aspect that made the hashtag successful was that people were already referring to the Pumpkin Spice Latte as PSL. How are people referring to your product, service or business on social media? On a local level, we are located close to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Are people referring to it on social media as #ProFootballHallofFame, #ProFootballHOF or simply #HOF. Do your research. Often words marketers use aren’t the same ones their customers are using.

BONUS LAP WITH: Andy Crestodina, Co-Founder/Strategic Director of Orbit Media Studios

Our friend from the windy city joined the web design and interactive marketing space in January 2000, finding it to be the perfect marriage of art and science. Since then, he co-founded Orbit Media Studios, wrote a book and created Content Jam, Chicago’s largest content marketing conference. Whew! In his “spare time” he enjoys scuba diving, piano, architecture and environmentalism and can often be found doing good in Chicago. 

First, event hashtags do not need to contain the year. In fact, it’s better if they don’t. So instead of #OurEvent2015, just make it #OurEvent. This will make it shorter, which is important, and it makes it easier to repurpose the hashtag next year. Also, be sure to check the hashtag ahead of time and see if it’s being used by anyone else.

Some people just aren’t going to use it. That’s fine. But to give yourself the best chance of getting traction, here are places to put it and ways to use it:

  • Tell the audience about it before the opening keynote.
  • Put it at the bottom of every slide on every presentation.
  • Put it at the top of the closing slide at every presentation.
  • Add it to all the signage and printed materials, including badges.
  • During a break in the event, give a shoutout to the person who has used the hashtag the most.
  • At the close of the event, give a small reward to the person who used it the most.
  • After the event, create a Storify post using the hashtag and send it out as a follow up to attendees.

It’s really hard to keep a hashtag alive between events, but one way is to use it again for monthly Twitter chats. Content Marketing World does this really well. They keep the #CMWorld hashtag alive year around.

But hashtags don’t always have to surround an event. If you’re posting high-value, how-to content on a regular basis, creating a hashtag is a good way to help people who liked one tweet or post find more. This is especially effective if you schedule and automate your social media posts in advance. Just pick a hashtag and add it to all the posts. Set it and forget it!

For example, Pole Position could have one tweet every day that links to an evergreen post on the blog. If these tweets includes a hashtag such as #PoleTips, then a follower who found and liked one article could click the hashtag to find the others quickly. The goal isn’t to have the hashtag go viral, it’s just to keep the tweets organized and more easily found.


Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. He is the founder and CEO of Pole Position Marketing, a web presence optimization firm whose pit crew has been velocitizing websites since 1998. In his free time Stoney gets involved in community services and ministries with his “bride enjoy” and his children. Read Stoney’s full bio.

2 Responses to Ask the Pit Crew: How Do You Develop a Successful Hashtag Campaign?

  1. Jonah says:

    Hi Stoney. I’m Jonah from Hashtagify.me. I’ve just read your article and want to thank you very much for introducing our tool to your readers 🙂

    • Julie Graff
      Julie Graff says:

      Hi, Jonah! So glad you saw this and appreciated the mention. Please feel free to share this on your social media 🙂 – Julie