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How do you create a marketing hashtag that doesn’t #fail?

Hashtags make the rounds across all kinds of social media. And because of their popularity, many brands want to use them in their own marketing campaigns to help spread their message. While this is often a great strategy, it is also prone to failure. So before you create a marketing hashtag, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself in for.

Understand the rules behind #hashtags.

Punctuation will break a hashtag. So will spaces. You can use numbers, but there have to be letters in there somewhere. (So #1 will not work.) And while you can include capital letters, hashtag sorting algorithms don’t recognize them. This means that #TheRealDeal and #therealdeal will yield the same search results.

Make sure it doesn’t mean something else.

In the absence of spaces and punctuation, words in hashtags are prone to being crammed together in unfamiliar ways. It’s all too common to create a hashtag with one meaning in mind, only to realize after the fact that it means something completely the opposite.

For instance, perhaps you’ve written an ebook about black hat SEO practices. You set out to promote it on social and you chose a hashtag you intend to be read as #BlackHatEbook. Unfortunately, your hashtag is now prone to be read as #BlackHateBook. Oops.

Similarly, when former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died, it started the hashtag #NowThatcherIsDead. Unfortunately, many read #NowThatCherIsDead, leading to a rumor that the singer had died.

Don’t pick something which can be hijacked.

Hashtag hijacking happens when a hashtag is taken over for something other than its intended purpose. For instance, when McDonalds started the campaign #McDStories, they meant to encourage customers to share positive experiences with their brand. Unfortunately, many Twitter users took this as a chance to share negative brand stories, and once the trend started, McDonalds couldn’t undo it.

Similarly, beware of asking followers social media to submit public questions. There’s a place for AMA sessions, and that place is Reddit—not Twitter. Folk on the Internet love to tease, so if you start a hashtag soliciting questions from your audience, you are likely to be flooded by more prank questions than honest inquiries.

This is also a pretty bad strategy if your company is in the midst of a large corporate scandal. We wouldn’t feel the need to mention this, except that this was the cause of one of the most infamous hashtag campaign fails of all time: JP Morgan’s #AskJPM debacle.

Test your hashtag before use.

The takeaway here is: put your chosen hashtag under a lot of scrutiny. Once you create a marketing hashtag, proofread it and run it through a series of tests:

  • Show it to many people.
  • Read it aloud.
  • Read it with and without capitalization.
  • Pay close attention to how the words in your hashtag smoosh together.
  • Look up the hashtag beforehand to see if it’s already being used.

While all the horror stories can seem intimidating, a little bit of preparedness can save you from almost all of these blunders. If you use them well, hashtags can be a fun, witty, and effective way to connect with your audience and bring followers together on social media. Employ a bit of common sense when you start your campaign, and you’ll go far.

Published 11/10/16 by Laura Lynch