Understanding customers and remaining in control

Businesses, and consumers, for that matter, don’t seem to know how to approach the hashtag to achieve success. This may be because they can’t be easily placed into either of the traditional ‘owned’ or ‘earned’ media types, so marketers struggle to develop a thorough strategy for their use and attempt to measure their success. 

Hashtags are partially ‘owned,’ because marketers launch and promote the right word or phrase that resonates best with their brand, products and consumers.

They are also partially ‘earned’, as they clearly cannot be successful unless they pass into general usage and are used by third parties: consumers, customers and social media users.

So there’s one simple truism here. You can never fully own or control hashtags. Just like anything on social media, it’s public property the moment it’s ‘out there’.

The ‘earned media’ factor is most successful when the hashtag starts being used organically. Where, unbidden, social media users begin using a phrase which picks up momentum and becomes a trend.  From a marketer’s perspective, this is like gold dust — but almost impossible to create, control, or predict.

Therefore, it’s usually back to the old classic of owned-media marketing: the campaign.

A hashtag campaign is, in many ways, no different to campaigns that marketers have always planned, executed and measured through more traditional media. With hashtags, however, there is a clear difference in the increased level of direct engagement that comes from a social media approach.

Measuring success

There’s been a lot written on blogs and forums describing successful hashtag campaigns, from Domino’s #letsdolunch to Uniqlo’s #luckycounter, from Mercedes’ #youdrive to Honda’s #wantnewcar.

Likewise, plenty of metrics are offered up describing these campaigns’ success, from increases in Twitter followers and social media mentions, or ‘engagement rate’. Indeed, one of the best things about using hashtags is the ease of measurability.

But how, when it’s general social media users who are driving this response, can an ‘engagement rate’ be truly useful? What if all the mentions are negative?

What if all the new followers were attracted to the entertaining campaign, but have no intention to buy anything? What about ways the hashtag may have been re-appropriated through the uncontrollable nature of social? 

For example, Matalan’s recent #matalansummertips was considered to be a ‘successful’ hashtag. Here, Twitter users were encouraged to tweet ideas for family- and budget-friendly activities for the summer holiday period.

Plenty of great interaction was generated, with tips often being great brand association for the retailer:

However, using social media insights software, it is possible to see that 28% of the posts in the UK using the hashtag were re-appropriating it in some way.

This was usually to humorous effect, sometimes switching the ‘family-friendly’ aim of the campaign to be a little more ‘adult’:

Often, this was at the expense of the Matalan brand:

What impact this had on Matalan, the brand and its sales isn’t known by this author, but it’s the sort of organic behaviour which is part-and-parcel of dealing with social media. It should be measured and understood.

A second example comes from Mercedes Benz. Its #YouDrive campaign was perceived as an innovative way to interact with potential customers and try to attract a younger demographic to the brand.

An analysis of the topics discussed on Twitter (see graphical breakdown of the conversation below) relating to the campaign shows that only just over half (54%) of the conversation was positive, including interaction with the campaign.

While there was not much negativity (only 3%) directed at the campaign, a significant 43% could be seen as entirely neutral, including Mercedes’ own promotional messages, and the media commentary on the ‘innovative’ campaign.

These promotional or insider ‘non-opinions’ could cloud many success metrics for the campaign, obscuring more useful insights.

One such example is ‘intent to buy’, a strand of conversation which is highly valuable to business (witness the success of a hashtag campaign driven by exactly this: Honda’s #wantnewcar campaign), and which is also identifiable using more sophisticated analysis tools, revealed at around 19% of the conversation through this study.

What all this comes down to is understanding customers and their behaviour. In order to assess the success of a hashtag-based campaign – any social media-lead campaign – businesses need to do more than count likes and followers.

They need to truly understand sentiment, language, tone of voice, and the trends of how the conversation is unfolding around their chosen hashtag.

Armed with the right tools, marketers can understand the organic and seemingly-uncontrollable hashtag and drive better campaign results.