I love a good hashtag. I am even a fan of using hashtags incorrectly just to make a point or to annoy people who have a very strong sense of appropriate hashtag etiquette. But if you wander through the history of hashtags you can find yourself losing hours and hours and hours seeing how one hashtag has been used by millions of people in vastly different ways.
Hashtags came back into the spotlight during the Olympics because Rio took branding to ridiculous new heights and got cranky with any brand using the ‘official’ hashtag that wasn’t an ‘official’ sponsor. Which was perhaps at odds with the more egalitarian origins of the Olympic games but entirely aligned with the current politicised, branding juggernaut that the event is today.
But ultimately, a hashtag is always going to be public property. I know that globally there is movement around ownership of hashtags and trademarks and all the very serious stuff, and probably, because the world is like that, it will gain some momentum and become a thing. But you’re never going to get popular or build positive brand equity if you start beating down on people having the same conversations as you.
And that’s all a hashtag is. It’s an indicator of what the conversation is about.
There are of course some epic fails when it comes to hashtags. Years from now when nobody even remembers the show “Britain’s got Talent” and Simon Cowell’s jeans have risen so high he wears shoulder pads to keep from suffocating, people will remember the brilliantly bad #susanalbumparty used by her PR company to launch her first album.
There is no part of me that can fathom how that went out. Was there not a single person in that entire company that attended primary school? Putting the word bum in anything is hilarious enough but putting it between anal and party was asking for trouble no shy Scot needs.
Other hashtags are okay to look at, but can be hijacked very quickly. Victorian Taxis learned this the hard way last year when they asked the public to use #YourTaxis to share their stories of using taxis. It took mere moments for it to descend into an ever widening circle of hell for their PR agency who had clearly not thought through their risk management strategy. The hashtag was used by people all over Australia to unleash their frustrations and share some pretty harrowing tales.
We are pretty sure the PR team over at Uber though were drinking champagne and putting the feed on the big screen. They could not have dreamed up such a successful pro-Uber campaign in a thousand years. And best of all – it cost them nothing. Other negatively hijacked hashtags include #McDStories, #QantasLuxury, #NowThatcherIsDead, #goalface and #cosbymemes.
But lots of awesome things happen because of hashtags too. #illridewithyou enabled every day Australian’s to show some solidarity with their Muslim neighbours following the Sydney siege when racists were being, well racist. Other hashtags which continue to inspire and to connect people are #refugeeswelcome, #blacklivesmatter, #bringbackourgirls, #everydaysexism and #lovewins.
For a brand, a hashtag is very similar to naming a child.
- You have to find one you like.
- You have to find one that reflects you and your personality.
- You have to see how it will age and whether there is any likelihood that people can make jokes about poo, sex or rude words when they see it written down or said out loud.
- You need to check out who else is using it to see if that is an association you are comfortable with (teachers often find this part of the process very hard)
- Then you have to look at if from other people’s point of view – Ralph is a cool name, yes. But it is also slang for ‘vomit’ in Australia. Your maiden name might have been Cosby but in light of what we now know about the Huxtable family – is it the right time to be using it? If you’ve looked at the pros and cons of that name/hashtag and you’re happy with the strategies you’ve devised to handle any negativity in the future. Well…
- Give birth.
And to end with – because it never stops being funny – I give you #hashtags