If you’re looking for effective ways to build a bigger following on social media, look no further than the humble hashtag competition.
Since hashtags became a big deal in the social media world, they’ve become a quick way to explode your brand’s reach and amass user-generated content for savvy marketing.
But before we go into how to run a successful hashtag competition, let’s talk about why they’re so popular at the moment.
To be honest, it’s pretty straightforward: they’re cheap and easy to run, they tend to gain a lot of traction quickly, and they’re easier to manage than many other kinds of promotions. What’s more, they’re relatively quick to prepare for something that yields so many benefits. Hashtag competitions can help you build brand awareness, increase engagement with your audience, and ultimately increase sales.
One thing to be aware of though – user-generated hashtag competitions are different to ‘tag a friend’, ‘like’, or ‘comment to win’ competitions. You know why?
Because they use hashtags. D’uh. A UGC hashtag competition is basically a giveaway where a brand asks its followers to post a piece of content on a social network, accompanied by a specific hashtag, for a chance to win a prize. That content might take the form of a photo, video, review, or even some text, like a recipe.
Either way, each time someone posts anything containing the unique hashtag, they’re entered to win a prize. The winner is generally chosen either at random (technically making the contest a ‘sweepstakes’). Alternatively, they can be determined by criteria the brand decides upon such as popularity/views or by letting a panel of independent judges choose the winner.
Clear on all that? Great! Let’s get down into the nitty-gritty of running hashtag competitions.
The best platforms for hashtag competitions
While hashtags can be used across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and more, they are most popular on Twitter and Instagram, so you’d be best off focusing your efforts on these platforms.
Twitter is where hashtags really took off: when it first launched, the company’s founders used hashtags as ways to organize conversations and make certain topics easy to find. To run a hashtag competition on Twitter today, you’d ask people to use your hashtags in their post in order to be entered to win whatever prize you’re giving away, being aware that Twitter has a restricted character count so your hashtag shouldn’t be too long.
To run a hashtag contest on Instagram, on the other hand, you’d simply create a brand hashtag of any length and ask participants to use your hashtag in whatever caption accompanies their image or video.
In this example, the Empire State Building is giving away $5000 to someone who has taken a photo touching the building.
The best practises for hashtag competitions
While hashtag competitions are relatively easy to set up, you’re more likely to meet your hashtag goals if you identify what you want to accomplish and use the best tools available to help you meet your goals.
Here’s a quick checklist of things to be mindful of:
- Don’t violate trademarks. It may sound obvious, but you can’t use another company’s name in your hashtag. Increasingly companies are trademarking hashtags that don’t include their brand name, like Mucinex’ #blamemucus. So do some research to ensure you’re not co-opting a company’s trademarked material, and check that your hashtag can’t be read as a double entendre.
- Make your hashtag(s) easy to remember. Creating a hashtag that isn’t overly long, hard to remember or difficult to spell is easier said than done. However, put proper time and thought into coming up with one, as it’s the ammunition that will set your brand apart. Browse through this list of the most popular hashtags for inspiration. A great hashtag contest we’ve seen lately came from Dwayne Johnson (aka “The Rock”) who used #slowmochallenge for a contest linked to the premiere of ‘Baywatch’.
- Always include a brand hashtag. Some brands create unique hashtags that catch on with their followers and can be used for contests and general posts. PetSmart, for example, uses #petsmartcart in many of its own posts, and PetSmart customers frequently use this hashtag too. While you may have a short-term hashtag specifically in mind for your competition, you should also incorporate your branded hashtag into the post.
- Don’t go overboard. Hashtags can be hard to resist, but don’t go too too crazy with them or you’ll look spammy. Yes, Instagram allows you to post up to 30 (and there are ways you can include even more than that) but there aren’t many situations that actually call for maxing out your hashtags like this. According to studies, nine hashtags is the optimal amount to include in Instagram posts – they receive 5 times more engagement in the form of likes and comments.
- Write and post rules. Posting rules helps ensure that anyone who enters your promotion understands the guidelines and the limits involved. You might want to limit entries to certain countries or have a minimum age requirement, and you might want to limit how many times a person can enter. List all of these details very clearly on a landing page, rather than putting them into a comment or caption. That way your post will look much cleaner and you will be seen to have more transparency to boot.
- Award extra chances to win by adding a form. One of the reasons hashtag contests are so popular is that they’re easy to enter. However, if you’re interested in collecting email addresses to use in future marketing endeavours, you might consider adding a form for your contest since you may have some customers who don’t use Instagram or Twitter. People can then enter by uploading an image using your specific hashtag to this form. This is a great way to earn more participation in your hashtag competition and you can even give them extra chances to win if they enter using the form.
- Make it clear how you will choose a winner. When it becomes time to choose a winner, you have a few options. Software platforms like ShortStack can combine all your hashtag entries into a feed from which you can use a random entry picker tool to choose a winner. You can also let votes determine the winner, as mentioned earlier, or choose the one you like best based on some criteria you specified in your rules – e.g., funniest, most creative, etc. But whichever approach you take, provide details of it right from the start.
The best UGC ideas from hashtag competitions
Once your hashtag promotion is over and you’ve chosen a winner, you should have amassed a nice amount of user-generated content that you can use in future marketing efforts. Since sharing UGC is a proven way to increase engagement, build trust and drive sales, your next best step is to start creating and sharing stories using the material you collected.
Sharing UGC gives you a unique opportunity to connect with your customers, and increasingly consumers say UGC is more ‘trustworthy’ than content created by a brand’s marketing department.
If there is a poster child for UGC marketing, it’s GoPro. The camera company has UGC campaigns running pretty much nonstop and the strategy has worked wonders for them. Customers use the camera to film, well, whatever they happen to be doing and are encouraged to upload their footage on GoPro’s website under one of many categories (Travel, Family, Fun, etc.).
The users who ‘win’ in categories get their content published on GoPro’s website and via various social media channels. GoPro also offers prizes and cash for people who win their ‘content challenges’.
Any business could do something similar, showcasing the best entries either on existing social channels or on one you set up for the express purpose of promoting your users’ content. Winning videos and photos often get hundreds of thousands of views and likes so it’s a fantastic opportunity to increase brand recognition.
You can also use the UCG you collect to recruit brand advocates. Fashion and beauty brands, in particular, are very savvy about recruiting their followers to serve as brand advocates. Take Urban Outfitters. Their customers show off their style on their own platforms using hashtags like #UOHome and #UOBeauty. Urban Outfitters then curates the posts and pulls the ones they like onto a shoppable web page where customers can see how people are wearing and using various products.
Would you be more likely to purchase from a sterile image like this, which is on Urban Outfitter’s website:
Or from this post, which appears on Urban Outfitter’s shoppable community page:
Remember, your social media channels are not just a place for your brand to grandstand about its products or services, they’re a place to build an engaged community. By showcasing users’ content on your website and social channels, you let your users tell their stories about their experiences with your brand. This is invaluable. There are even tools that will allow you to set up a feed that shows off all the content you’ve collected (which you should moderate, of course), similar to what Urban Outfitters has done.
Hashtag competitions and user-generated content are influencing buyers of all ages and walks of life. In fact, a staggering 84% of millennials reported that UGC on company websites definitely holds sway and influence over what they buy (and how often).
What’s more, 43% of people are more inclined to purchase a new product if they learn about it via friends and family or on social media channels.
Are you likely to try a hashtag competition to gain exposure for your brand now? Do you want to know how ShortStack help you leverage Instagram and Twitter? Just ask! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Guest Author: Dana Kilroy is the communications director at ShortStack.