The Real Function of Hashtags

by

robin-rectenwald

How many of us trendy marketers have used hashtags to promote our brand or used hashtags just to use funny or popular phrases such as #sorrynotsorry, #nofilter, or #yolo?

In reality, how many of these hashtags did you actually follow or look up after using them? If you’re like me, then probably never. If you’re like me, you probably used the hashtag to be trendy and funny, like Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the real purpose for hashtags. Hashtags are meant to categorize messages so people interested in that topic can follow it. After attending my first major communications conference this weekend, I now realize the real function of hashtags and how powerful they can be.

I had a very lucky opportunity to go to the 2016 Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) International Conference held in Indianapolis. Like any other event I’ve been to, there were signs posted everywhere and reminders in the program to use the hashtag #PRSAICON. Normally my gut reaction of seeing these hashtags at events are, “Ya, okay, maybe.” To me, I always thought that this was just a branding technique for the company to raise awareness about them. I never thought of it as a genuine call to action that could benefit me.

However, after hearing from some of the most brilliant speakers and communications professionals, I decided to join the Twitter trend at the conference. I wanted my friends and family to know that I was sitting in the audience listing to stories from Derrick Kayongo, Founder and CEO of the Center for Civil and Human rights, Captain Scott Kelly, Astronaut and United States Navy Test Pilot, Theresa Payton, former White House Chief Information Officer, and many more. Why not join the fun and use the hashtag?

Not only was I able to gain new followers and increase the number of likes and retweets for my own posts, but I was able to connect with people at the conference that I never got the chance to meet in person. With hundreds of attendees from all over the world, six keynote speakers, 81 breakout sessions and variety of other networking and professional development workshops over a short span of two and a half days, it was impossible to hear and see everything I wanted. Thanks to the event hashtag, #PRSAICON, I was able to follow along with the other tweets that shared photos, PowerPoint presentation slides, memorable quotes and entertaining GIFS. This hashtag made me feel like I got a piece of all of the sessions and I was able to participate in live conversations.

For this reason, I encourage marketers to think about how you can use emerging media to genuinely create opportunities that will benefit your audience, not just your brand. For those of you that have ran successful engagement campaigns, please feel free to share some some tips with us!


Robin Rectenwald is a marketing & communications professional based in Pittsburgh, PA. She is currently a student at West Virginia University in the Integrated Marketing Communications graduate program. Check out her blog, Trendy Marketers, for more of her posts.

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