The Evolution Of The Hashtag: A Social Media Phenomenon That Demands Brand Attention And Respect!

by Shikhar Srivastava 2,673 views2


Hashtags offer an amazing opporunity for brands to get discovered on social media and using it effectively plays a crucial role in improving all of your social metrics, be it your social media performance or your social media reach.

Twitter has used hashtags with unprecedented success. Facebook has followed in Twitter’s footsteps and now uses hashtags much more efficiently than it did a few years ago. Google+ has also been successful at exploiting this amazing social media phenomenon to a great extent.

The discovery platform

Hashtags were initially meant to allow easier discovery of content. It allows netizens to discover all the relevant, and often irrelevant, news related to a topic of their interest. It was inevitable that media houses take advantage of this medium to reach a wider audience for their news bytes and that marked a new chapter in the evolution of the hashtag.

Brand engagement and digital marketing wildcard

Citing the success of the media houses companies eventually took to the hashtag revolution and used it to engage people in conversations around their brands. This trend led to the rising  concept of brand engagement programs. A large majority of brands, especially those whose entire existence is online, now use various kinds of customer loyalty programs to reward their customers for their continuing patronage.

Many brands have also used hashtags with incredible success to run online campaigns. During an online campaign an appropriate hashtag is, or a few appropriate hashtags are, attributed to a campaign and used throughout the entire lifetime of the campaign. When executed well these hashtags become the face of a campaign generating unprecedented leads and reaching an incredible number of people online.

The most successful hashtag based campaigns are often achieved through clever marketing strategics and not paid advertising. This is because the very essence of a hashtag is its ability to go viral which is why a number of brands hire digital marketers with a knack of shaping online campaigns based around hashtags and, what I refer to as, clever peer-leverage networking. Having said that there are a number of moderately successful campaigns that also do well through paid advertising. A good example of this is Snickers successfully using the hashtag #EatASnickers during, or in the run up to, various sporting, and entertainment, events.

Snickers' #eatasnicker hashtag campaign

Instant consumer feedback and public shaming of brands

What makes the hashtag an absolute social media juggernaut is its adoption by consumers and regular folks on the Internet. They say there is no power like people power and this certainly holds true for the coming together of Internet users and hashtags.

For the most part brands have used hashtags to push their campaigns and they have been fairly well received by the netizens but there have also been instances of campaigns backfiring or consumers taking to Twitter to give the brands a piece of their mind for the faulty service or a bad experience.


One famous example of a hashtag campaign gone totally wrong is the McDonald’s campaign which used the hashtag #McDStories encouraging people to share their stories involving their products and as it turned out the twitterverse exploded with negative feedback and true, or untrue, stories of their own using the same hashtag. While McDonald’s quickly pulled the plug on that campaign, the damage had been done.

Another recent incident involves Indian TV channel TimesNow. India’s cricket team had been eliminated from the cricket world cup tournament in the semi-final stage and TimesNow decided to run a hashtag campaign called #ShameInSydney trying to highlight that the cricket team had let the country down by losing the semi-finals at the Sydney Cricket Ground to hosts Australia. But little did they know that the public perception of the cricket team’s performance was mostly positive. Once again the twitterverse sprung into action and countered the TV channel’s hashtag with one of their own – #ShameOnTimesNow.


There are many instances of similar hashtag campaigns going wrong which clearly indicates that there is more to hashtags than simply creating one. Hashtag campaigns should be created keeping public opinion and campaign objectives in mind. Not everything you prefix a hash to would end up giving you a positive online campaign. The examples above are clear indicators of the same.

Due to this instant feedback, or in some cases instant backlash, many brands now have full time social media strategists who ensure that the true value of the hashtag is not lost to the sensationalism prevalent in popular culture.

Hashtags are a powerful social media phenomenon and when used with proper strategy and the right intent they can bring great success to not only brands but to individuals alike. Respect the hashtag and it rewards. Use it to purport something that public opinion detests and it may land you, or your brand, in more trouble than you could handle.

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