What on earth did the humble hash symbol do before social media elevated it to celebrity status? I honestly can’t remember having used it much, except to signal I was finished entering a number on a telephone keypad.

But today, the hashtag is an incredibly powerful little piece of kit in your marketing toolbox. For example, as I wrote in November’s post about brand tribes, it can unify a group of people in a way that makes them that much easier to target as a customer segment. It can also be used by organisations to generate conversation, build brand awareness and even underpin whole campaigns.

Not that it’s easy playing the hashtag game. After all, you haven’t got many characters to work with, and there are lots of people out there competing for a suitably brief but unique hashtag that will become so popular people use it in their day to day speech (#instalove, anyone?).

Hashtags can be annoying if they’re overused - nothing looks as spammy as a tweet loaded with half a dozen of them. But when they’re cleverly thought out and applied, they’re marketing gold. Here are five of our favourites.

#fooddancing

How many of you have a bit of a boogie in the kitchen while you’re making dinner? With hungry twins to distract, I’ll try absolutely anything to keep them amused while their fish fingers are browning. And it seems I’m not alone. Sainsbury’s have cottoned on to the fact that there are many more of us secret kitchen dancers, and they’re uniting us with a marketing campaign that centres around the catchy #fooddancing hashtag. Rather than social media being an add on, the entire campaign - which has gone out on traditional channels such as TV, print and billboards - is built around social media. It’s the ultimate in customer engagement, giving people an idea they can rally around, and no doubt it will result in plenty of customer-generated content to keep the campaign alive.

#LikeAGirl

The phrase ‘like a girl’ generally has negative connotations, suggesting that whatever it is being described as such is somehow inferior. Of course, we all* know that girls are not in the least bit inferior, a fact that Always decided to use as the basis for their 2014 #LikeAGirl campaign, which challenged people’s perceptions and the casual way they might bandy about a phrase that can have a huge impact on girls of an impressionable age. The Always ad might be long gone by now, but search #LikeAGirl on Twitter and you can’t help but be inspired by the kick-ass women you’ll see bossing it at sports, science, and just about anything else they set their mind to.

(*Unfortunately, some people don’t know. Which is why we still need feminism. But that’s a whole other post.)

#untaggable

I saw the TV ad for the new Audi Q2 at an airport over Christmas and was instantly hooked, despite the fact that the sound was turned down and I’m not in the least bit interested in cars (and if I were, it definitely wouldn’t be an Audi). The ad featured short video clips overlaid with simple, highly effective text. For example, there was a chef brushing sauce onto a plate: #foodporn? A shot of Marilyn Monroe: #blonde? Banksy-style graffiti: #vandalism? “What if we don’t fit the #boxes?” the messaging continued. And then, Elvis: #dead? #alive? A man base jumping: #stupid? #brave? A shot of the Audi Q2: #sportscar? #coupe? #urban? The possibilities scrolled on. And then finally: #untaggable. Absolute genius.

#whomadeyourclothes

This is an example of a where a hashtag is being used to do good rather than simply promote a brand. It was created by Fashion Revolution, a campaign set up in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza disaster, which calls for greater transparency, sustainability and ethics in the fashion industry. What I love about #whomadeyourclothes is that it’s a perfect example of gentle activism. Rather than shouting aggressively at less than ethical brands, it invites everyone to think more deeply about their purchasing habits, and engages them in a conversation that will almost certainly do more good than demonising whole swathes of the fashion industry.

#OverheardInWaitrose

This is a golden oldie in as much as a hashtag can be, but I’m including it because a) it still makes me laugh, and b) it’s a great example of how something that wasn’t actually a marketing campaign - that was, in fact, meant to mock the brand - has proved the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Does it bother me that one of the shoppers in Waitrose was supposedly overheard saying, “But don’t we already have a wine thermometer, dear?” Not at all. Because I like the fact that Waitrose is full of posh people. I like that it sells quinoa, cocoa nibs and approximately 4,672 flavours of hummus. I may not always have the budget to shop there, but I admit there have been times when I’ve bought something at my local store simply because the packaging was so beautiful I almost want to frame it. Being a luxury brand is great, and being a luxury brand that doesn’t take itself too seriously is even better. I reckon the marketing department should send the originators of #OverheardInWaitrose a really nice hamper.

So there we have it - our five favourite hashtags to date. No doubt there will be many more by the end of 2017. We’d love to hear yours, so connect with us on Twitter and let us know.

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