It's rare to see a modern social media marketing campaign that doesn't make use of a branded hashtag. What was once just a way to organize topics on Twitter has become a ubiquitous method of curating conversations and brand mentions across a number of sites, including Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine and Tumblr. More and more companies are encouraging customers to connect and get noticed through their use of hashtags.
"Today hashtags are most often used as a way to unify marketing efforts," said Kevin Bobowski, vice president of marketing at social marketing firm Offerpop. "They are a very effective way to tie together advertising and social media marketing campaigns, and collect user-generated content from customers."
But hashtags aren't just for marketing: They might just be the future of e-commerce. A May 2014 Bloomberg article announced a Twitter-Amazon deal allowing users to add products to their shopping cart with the hashtag #AmazonCart. [MORE: The Future of Social Commerce: Shopping On Twitter, Pinterest and Beyond]
Even without being directly linked to online transactions, hashtags are still a powerful call-to-action that can drive sales, even offline. When a consumer sees a hashtag in a print advertisement or television commercial, he or she has a simple and direct way to immediately connect with the brand on social media, Bobowski said..
"Once consumers participate in a hashtag-driven social media campaign, brands can collect contact information during the submission process that is a valuable way to offer discounts, deals or sales to potential customers," he told Business News Daily. "That consumer can also be added to email newsletter distribution lists, or other sales-driving marketing efforts."
Most important, hashtags serve as an immediate way for customers to meaningfully participate and engage in a brand's marketing, Bobowski said. Seeing themselves featured on a brand's website or social media accounts, or winning a prize through a social contest helps consumers feel more connected, which often drives stronger customer loyalty.
Bobowski offered the following best practices when it comes to using branded hashtags on social media.
Keep it simple. Hashtags are most effective when the branded hashtag is simple, easy-to-remember and action-oriented. Bobowski cited L'Oreal's #BeExtraordinary as a perfect example: It is brief, memorable and inspiring.
Take advantage of user-generated content. Each tweet or post that includes your hashtag has the potential to be a great piece of user-generated content. Bobowski advised having a strategy for using the content you collect from the hashtag campaign, such as reposting, sharing or featuring the content on your company's accounts or websites. One of the most valuable outcomes of a hashtag campaign is the hundreds of thousands of powerful, authentic photos and messages that it generates, not to mention the valuable consumer data that can be collected, he said.
Incentivize hashtag use. Customers will use your hashtag with or without a reward, but providing an incentive will make them much more likely to participate in your campaign. Run a content with a prize, or offer a discount or deal for customers who use your hashtag.
Don't forget about legal concerns. While user-generated content can provide top-notch marketing materials, it's important that you have a social media user's consent before using their submitted photos in any future campaigns. For example, fashion retailer Lilly Pulitzer collects consumer photos on social media through their #SummerinLilly hashtag, and reuses the photos only when customers give their express consent through an online form. At the very least, you should inform users that their submissions may be used for marketing purposes, and by participating a contest or campaign, they give their consent for this.
"Work with a marketing software platform that provides full back-end support for hashtag-driven campaigns and make it easy to collect consumer data and legally re-use the photo or video submissions," Bobowski said.
Originally published on Business News Daily.