The most popular communication symbol of the 21st century, the hashtag, holds some serious power as a mechanic in engaging with consumers. Often, it's an afterthought, used as an addition after the planning stage of a campaign is done and dusted. So how should you engrain the symbol into your experiential marketing strategy – and, more importantly, why should you?
Make it genuine
Think about the power of the hashtag. It's a gateway, opening doors to new communities. If you went to a party and had several doors in front of you, think how each room would have its own conversation. How do you fit in with the crowd behind that door? You need to be relatable and genuine. The only way to do this is to consider what you want to say much earlier and as a bigger part of your social strategy.
Brands are sometimes too quick to add their name into a hashtag's formulation and make it all about them. In real life you wouldn't just jump into a conversation without knowing the subject – this can leave your crowd disinterested in what you have to say. If you can find a community that already aligns with your purpose and interests – step through the door, don't try to reinvent the wheel.
Don't try to be part of something you're not
The wrong hashtag risks alienating your target consumers from your brand. Steer clear of superficial hashtags that try to jump on trends that don't naturally fit with your brand. If you're a treat brand with an amazing heritage, don't be tempted to jump on a clean-living trend – it doesn't fit, it isn't genuine, and, yes, consumers will notice.
Never try to use important causes for your own gain. Having a LGBTQ flag on your Instagram profile once a year does not give you the right to add #pride to colourful posts. Instead, tap into existing hashtags that remain relevant to your brand's core values and that people already relate to. When that's not an option, then there is an opportunity to create one – but don't be overly concerned with adding your brand name. Instead, own it because it's real and relevant to your community. That's how it can pay dividends, as consumers see your brand as a genuine part of that community.
Engrain it into strategy
Social media should always play a big part in the formulation of your experiential marketing campaign. With thorough research into what your target consumer is saying on social media, identifying their psychographics as well as demographics (yes, often that means trawling hashtags on numerous platforms to see if it's where your brand also aligns), you can make sure you're in the right place. By working across teams, you're ensuring you've thought about it early on, and that results in your hashtag being well thought out and, therefore, genuine.
Find the community
After you've done the research and ensured you've found a hashtag that naturally aligns (or made one from a genuine place if one doesn't exist), you've found a sure-fire way to show your consumers that you're a part of that community. The right hashtag will encourage consumers to identify and relate to your brand experience enough to share it. And that's not just live from the event: the right hashtag use will keep your brand in consumers' minds after your event, too. You have effectively built a community from one little word starting with # which you can communicate long after the event. Nurture it and watch it grow.
Collaboration, awareness, togetherness
If you've taken all the steps to ensure you've included the hashtag as an important part of your event strategy, you're successfully tapping into a community of like-minded people all brought together with one message. Consumers just need a strategy that unties their values with your brand's values, and the conversation can flow.
Add value and increase brand sentiment
When used correctly, the hashtag can be an incredibly potent facet of your marketing strategy that enables brands to create a community of like-minded people, encourage collaboration, increase awareness for a cause, and ultimately be seen as a genuinely helpful way for a brand to tap into existing – and new – communities, showing consumers it aligns with their values.
So embrace the chance to be the host in the room full of people – not the shrinking violet – by driving the conversation with a proper hashtag strategy.
Tina Thompson is digital strategy director at N2O
Image credit: atakan via Getty Images