Great event, but the hashtag was missing in action…

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At the Myer Christmas windows last December I Instagrammed the big mechanical Gingerbread Cat above against a reflection of the buildings opposite. I applied a filter (Mayfair) and the ‘Myer Christmas Windows’ geo-tag. But I hesitated on the hashtag – there was nothing to indicate what the ‘official’ Myer Christmas Windows tag was. Where was the designated tag that the  Myer online marketing folk would surely have wanted me and others to use to make it easy for us to collectively share our window viewing experiences on our Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest accounts? You know, to encourage online sharing and buzz around their branded, off-line event.

Left up to my own devices I started with logic: #myerchristmaswindows2013 made sense but seemed ridiculously long (and to bolt the year on the end or not?). Or should I use something in keeping with the theme of the windows for that year, e.g. #gingerbreadfriends? No, too vague. Maybe #myerxmas? Or #myergingerbread?  No, too ambiguous. In the interests of time I settled on #gingerbread – yes, pretty lame.

The lack of an obvious hashtag to use effectively fractured the Myer Christmas Windows viewing community. It’s unlikely the majority of us would ever discover each other’s images and tweets – and that’s  a shame. Today, the social back-channel streams of content and engagement serve to enhance the traditional front-channel, live activity. In short it’s fun sharing a common experience online with strangers (and absent friends).

If you’re hosting your own event, give thought to prominently displaying a unique hashtag for your quests or visitors to use. It’ll take the guesswork out of the process for them, facilitate a sense of community, and make it easier for you to respond to anyone who has been so kind as to share your (branded) moment with others. Then run a hashtag search during or after the event on a multi-platform search engine such as Tagboard and collate the very best of what was posted. These branded, earned social media assets are gold – recycle the best of them through your own social media platforms.

Ideas for hashtag placement:

  • On any marketing hardcopy collateral leading up to an event
  • On any social media channels supporting an event
  • At the entrance of the event venue
  • On the event ticket
  • Printed on the event program or guide
  • Behind the event bar or other service areas
  • At the bottom of food and drinks menusfish norm4


Hashtags: Social Media’s Binding Agents

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#tags are useful things – they boost the findability of online content and facilitate the creation of virtual communities around events or activities.

Hashtags inserted within posts on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and Instagram are live – click on one and it will reveal other public posts that share that same hashtag. Inserting aligned hashtags in your own posts will help others discover your content as people search on themed hashtags.

Hashtags enable people who are participating in a shared experience to discover each other and each other’s related social content. Conferences, festivals, television programs, cultural and sporting events are commonly assigned one or more hashtags. This can happen organically or by design by the organisers – either way, they act as a social binding agent for the occasion.

Hashtags are also commonly used in online competitions, enabling organisers to find the social content entrants have tagged as part of an entry requirement, or to judge content they have generated.

And finally, hashtags can be used as a form of expression – not to make a post more findable. Someone for example might tweet in anticipation of an upcoming concert using the hashtag #cantwait.

Hashtags commonly fall into 1 of 5 categories:

General theme  – what people would generally and logically use to theme their content, e.g  #socialmedia #icecream, #trains, #quotes, #autism, #foodporn

 Place – associated to physical places, e.g. #melbourne, #smithst #melbmuseum #parismetro

 Event or activity – associated with live events such as conferences festivals, sporting fixtures, television programs, tweet-ups, etc. Organisers of these events and activities will often proactively promote the hashtag they want their audiences to adopt (even if this doesn’t happen, the audience will often make one up and adopt it quickly).  Some tags persist across multiple instances of an activity such as a TV show, or they might be one-offs – see below.

Disposable, one-offs – used just once such as at a conference, e.g. #dentalconf13

Brand – promoted by organisations, groups or teams to help people find all related branded content, as well as to encourage others to adopt the tag when referencing the organisation, e.g. #net101 #melbvixons #pwc

Here are some of the do’s and don’ts of using hashtags:

  •  They are not case sensitive. If a hashtag incorporates more than one word, some people like to use upper and lower case characters to make the words stand out, e.g. #SydneyRoads
  •  You can’t have spaces or include punctuation (except for an underscore) – each tag must be all one word such as #ausvotes – NOT ‘#aus votes’ or ‘#aus-votes’ or ‘#ausvotes!’
  • You can use as many hashtags as you like in a post but more than 4 starts to look crowded or spammy – the exception is Instagram where up to 20 hashtags associated with a post is common.
  • Before announcing a hashtag to an audience make sure it’s not already in popular use by group of people somewhere else in the world.
  • No-one owns a hashtag – they’re public fare. You can try and keep a hashtag a secret, but there’s no stopping outsiders using your hashtag once it becomes known.

If you want to search a specific hashtag across multiple social platforms, try TagboardScreen Shot 2013-09-21 at 3.35.05 PM

 Image by “CAVE CANEM”