The hashtag — what we used to call a pound sign — is the trickster of the social media world. It’s supposed to bring order to chaos by providing a handy way for people to connect on a particular theme or subject, and it does—most of the time. But the hashtag can also unexpectedly be a source of chaos and confusion.
Consider the famous (and famously amusing) instances of marketers losing control of their hashtags, such as the notorious #McDStories. What started as a tasty campaign for the fast food company quickly turned sour as their promoted hashtag inspired a bunch of snarky (and sometimes gross) tweets.
Most hashtag problems, of course, are not this dramatic. We experienced a more common hashtag issue during the ACRC Bowl Series, a rugby sporting event produced by 4x3’s sister company Sevens Sports. We created and promoted an “official” hashtag for the event, #ACRC15s, which was used on the website, social media and in the event program. This did not prevent some people from creating their own, however.
A post-event analysis shows that in addition to #ACRC15s (the most commonly used hashtag), #ACRC was occasionally used. A fair number of attendees also tweeted under #ACRCBowlSeries.
Some hashtag best practices are suggested by how things played out on social media that weekend.
Hashtag best practices
- Be consistent! If you use more than one hashtag, others will too.
- Make it intuitive. The ideal hashtag is short but descriptive.
- Don’t be too generic—it’s a good thing we did not choose “ACRC” as our official hashtag, as there are a bunch of unrelated tweets using this handle.
- Promote the hashtag wherever you can. Announce the hashtag at the event if you have a message board or PA system, and include on signs and banners. Not only does this encourage everyone to use the same hashtag, it reminds them to post about the event generally.
- Check for “rogue” hashtags and direct social media users towards yours. For instance, we could have sent a friendly tweet like: “Love the #ACRCBowlSeries tweets! Use the official #ACRC15s hashtag to get even more people to see and share your posts!”
- If despite your efforts, a ton of people are using an alternate version, start using both.