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Companies want to make big waves when it comes to Twitter, and one way to do this is to use hashtags to create communities around their brands. But there are two ideologies when it comes to using hashtags. The first is to create unique hashtags. This allows brands to lay claim to the viral movements they create on the social platform. The second is to use existing hashtags that have brand-relevant conversations around them.

When many brands first started to use Twitter, they included hashtags in their TV advertisements. This tactic has been particularly popular in recent retail and fashion advertisements. TJ Maxx has #maxxinista, Marshall’s used #fashionfound and Target recently used #mykindofholiday for discounts. Below is the example of #mykindofholiday usage on a graph, and as you can see they have significant spikes.

mykindofholiday-hashtag

These spikes are caused by the instances when the company’s advertisements played on TV. In fact, even without a hashtag, many companies enjoyed increased mentions immediately after an airing of one of their commercials. Note, also, that many of these campaigns are short-lived. Aside from the fact that the user behavior is to tweet when the ads appear, the hashtags only appear in ads for a few months. So this begs the question, “Is using a unique hashtag worth the effort, or should companies just focus on current conversations?”

I say it’s the latter. The most influential marketers have said that social media is about the conversation, and that brands should engage and not push products. So why are they trying to own the conversations, just as a guise to push product? If advertising is pushing the reactions, then companies could just as easily use it to push direct mentions of the brand. Brands can take advantage of this opportunity to engage in a conversation that the user actually wants. If a hashtag is necessary, or the brand wants to stir a specific conversation, then it can use an existing, brand-relevant hashtag that fits the promotion.

Of course, using existing hashtags should be done carefully. When Burger King launched its new French fries, it used the hashtag #WTFF, which had a meaning of its own. This leads to another issue with unique hashtags: They can easily be hijacked and used against the brand. #McDStories was intended to be a way for people to learn more about the people behind the brand, but it quickly turned into a satirical hazing of the brand, pointing out all the negative consequences of eating McDonald’s food.

Perhaps that is the root of the need for control in the conversation. Horror stories from worst-case scenarios have brands trying to play it safe and keep themselves out of trouble. Yet, Twitter is one of the most public and open channels in which brands have the opportunity to participate. The conversations are happening with or without them.

So where do you stand on hashtags? Should we be striving to create unique hashtags for brands, or use existing conversations to interact with consumers?

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