You’ve gone to all the trouble of planning an amazing event and now you want people to talk about it! If your event goes off without a hitch, in all its glory, the good news is that they will. And branded hashtags will help you promote and track that conversation. Unless you’re a fly on the wall, it’s impossible to be everywhere and listening in to every conversation happening at your event or after your event, and you’ll be Facebook stalking – we mean researching – attendees’ walls for a long time, just to get all that juicy feedback. Utilizing custom branded hashtags for your event will let people know that if they want to post about it, or even hear what other’s are saying about it, there’s an easy way to join the conversation.
History of Hashtags
Contrary to popular belief, Twitter did not invent the hashtag. The use of “the pound sign” actually began being used in the online space in the late 90’s on Internet Relay Chat.  The first ever use on Twitter wasn’t even done by a brand, but by Chris Messina, a designer, in 2007 where he asked:
Image courtesy of https://www.adweek.com/digital/history-hashtag-social-marketing/
In terms of custom branded hashtags, popular brands were quick to catch on to this new form of conversation categorization.
“One of the earliest brands to successfully adopt the hashtag was South by Southwest. In 2007, anyone on Twitter could type in #SXSW and see what events at the Austin based conference were trending.” 
Hashtags: What are they and why are they used?
The hashtag is using the pound sign (#) and then writing a word or a phrase after it. Sometimes, you see people writing really short and witty hashtags on their Twitter pages, or long but equally hilarious ones to describe how they are feeling or a situation they are currently finding themselves in, even though those rarely have any use relating to searchability.
Commonly, people use them to talk about their favourite television shows (two-screen experience), movies, or to engage with brands for customer service matters.
So why would a business use hashtags?
- Brands use them to help keep track of the conversation online or for specific campaigns and contests
- Join in the conversation (promotes digital marketing aspect; if people know there is somewhere they can post and be heard, they are more likely to share their experience than if you don’t share that you are using one)
- Promotes community (people want to be a part of something)
When should you use hashtags?
Businesses using hashtags can use them for a number of different reasons, from tracking goals to engagement. Some of the most important uses are:
Marketing Campaign Branded Hashtags:
Any original content that you create for the online space, any related print content, etc. A way to tie all content about you back to your brand. An easy way to search key information amongst all of the other posts.
One of ours is #TheLonelyHashtag. Check it out!
Great way to keep track of all entries when running a social media contest – also a great way to keep track of, screenshot and re-share all user generated content (UGC).
Event Branded Hashtags:
Use as a place to keep track of event-specific communications, to promote the event or contests running and to allow for your audience to see UGC and experience FOMO.
Hashtags as a Way To join in on another conversation:
Partnerships or related brands will likely have their own branded hashtags. If you want to join their conversation or add your opinion to it, just use their hashtag and reply to them.
Tips to create the best custom event hashtag:
- Make a list of all the ideas you come up with (think if you were a real agency copywriter trying to come up with the perfect headline for an ad). Write it all down. Leave it. Add to it. Aim for 50! #HighAchievers. Go through it and cross off your least favourites.
- Examine your top 5. It doesn’t have to be 5. It can be 3 or 4. Go through them and say them out loud. Write them down with the hashtag using different types of capitalizations. Run through your event in your head again and think carefully about which ones are most in line with your even objectives.
- Make sure that with no capitals that other words do not start to appear (maybe dirty ones).
- Make sure they are not too long!
- Do some research on your top few. Key them into Google and Twitter and Instagram and see what they have been used for in the past, if anything. You don’t want to use a hashtag that had a potentially negative connotation, even if it was years ago. If it’s been used minimally in general, and does not appear to be tied to any other big brands or competitors, you’re safe to use it.
- Run them by a few marketing geeks.
- Run them by a few non-marketing geeks. Bonus points if these people are part of your event target market.
- Make a final decision.
Congratulations! You now have a custom event hashtag. (Ours is #ERsocial)
Some of the best hashtags we’ve seen:
1. ALS #IceBucketChallenge (736,560+ posts)
Why it was great:
- Charitable initiative (that the organization didn’t even create)
- It incorporated video which is the most engaging content to use on social media
- It was fun, and it sparked conversation around an important issue
- It incorporated a sharing component that both celebrities and average Joe’s got behind and it helped make it go viral
- Raised over $115 million dollars 
2. Charmin #TweetFromTheSeat
Why it was great:
- It’s simple and genius – they want you to Tweet while on the toilet and everyone secretly does so anyway.
- It’s fun and ridiculous – the tweets range from whatever thoughts you have while sitting there to things you hear from the stall next door
- It’s memorable (and it rhymes)
3. Lay’s #DoUsAFlavor
Why it was great:
- Related to a contest
- Actually garnered customer/audience opinion
- They followed up and actually created the most popular flavours and sold them
- Wordplay = always winning (do us a favour? Do us a flavour)
Special mention goes to #ShareACoke because it promoted sharing, community and mentioned the brand/product name right in the hashtag.
You’ve Got a Hashtag: Now What?
Put your branded hashtag everywhere!
- Make volunteer T-Shirts with it on the back.
- Ensure your conference speakers have it on their event slides.
- Add it to your branded/company social media pages (Instagram and Twitter bio).
- Have it on the Facebook Event page.
- Put it on the event ticket purchase page or the event app.
- Put it on the outside of your event swag bags, on your flyers and on a banner that welcomes people to your event.
Once you do this, it’s safe to say that your event attendees will be fully aware that your event does have a custom branded event hashtag and that they can join in on the conversation.
Use the hashtag in all event posts on Twitter and Instagram – written, video or image. If people are engaging in the conversation online, make sure you are replying and using the event hashtag as well.
The best part of using a custom branded event hashtag is that once the event is over and done with, you can track the performance of the hashtag (although we recommend doing it at the end of each day, because you can see if they were trending for your particular area). Measure your results. Jot them down or make a fancy analytics document. Discuss what worked and what didn’t work. And do it all again next year!
Ashley Saunders, Matriarch, Strategist, Live Social Coordinator