Brand awareness and loyalty

How to Start a Hashtag Campaign on Instagram

  • 15 Minutes
How to get from 0 to hashtag famous in a few steps.

If you’re looking to amplify your Instagram marketing campaigns and boost your results on the platform you can’t ignore the humble hashtag. Hashtag campaigns are a no-brainer for brands seeking to build brand awareness, increase engagement and promote their products and services.

Hashtags first originated on Twitter way back in 2007 and were originally created as a way to group similar conversations. It caught on quickly, and now hashtags are used across practically every social media platform, from LinkedIn to Facebook – not to mention across a range of other web platforms and the wider internet. Hashtags are primarily used as a means of aggregating information and connecting people who have similar interests or are just participating in the same conversations.

It makes sense – after all, with such a large amount of information on the internet, it helps to give it some structure. Hashtags also help to connect various communities via social media channels. They allow different groups and niches to connect. Those groups might be as specific as new mothers, Harry Potter fans, or simply people who like cats.

Likewise, hashtag campaigns are the perfect way for brands to connect with communities of their fans, host competitions, or even start a movement. This way, brands can create popular or even viral content on social media. Hashtags can bond users over certain topics, uniting users who share similar interests and helping them solve their problems.

So, what exactly is a hashtag campaign? And how can brands utilize them to tap into the immense power that the hashtag holds?

What Exactly is a Hashtag Campaign?

A hashtag campaign is exactly what it sounds like; a marketing campaign based around a hashtag or a group of hashtags. Breaking down what that actually means, though, in a hashtag campaign, brands use hashtags to anchor and organize their campaigns. It can also be a way for brands to collect and curate posts uploaded by users, as well, when they start to participate.

In this way, brand content and user content can combine to amplify the reach and engagement achieved within the campaign.

More importantly, rather than brands having a one-way conversation with users, hashtag campaigns are far more collaborative. They allow users to share the microphone and join the conversation using hashtags.

But why run a hashtag campaign on Instagram specifically? Well, apart from the fact that Instagram reportedly now has over 1 billion monthly active users, the platform also has high utilization of hashtags.

Not only that, but users on Instagram are highly likely to interact with brands on the platform, with 62% of users saying they are more likely to engage with brands on Instagram than they are on any other social media platform.

Why Should You Run a Hashtag Campaign?

So, why bother running a hashtag campaign? Good question!

Hashtags have the indisputable power to unite users under common causes and interests. But apart from that, brands can start using Instagram hashtags as a powerful tool to organize their campaign content and increase user engagement.

Without hashtags, it can be difficult to center conversations around particular events, movements, or topics.

Hashtags can:

  • Boost your brand awareness. If you create a branded hashtag that is used widely by celebrities, influencers, and other Instagram users, you can extend your brand awareness and increase the longevity of your campaigns
  • Combine information. Users can search for various topics such as #baliwedding, or #burgersinlondon, and connect with businesses or other users in this way. In doing so, they can use Instagram as a platform for discoverability and leverage real-world recommendations from other like-minded people
  • Promote your products or services. Hashtags are a handy way to aggregate information about your products, especially when it comes to styling fashion items or trying out recipes. However, they can be used for any number of products or services. Sometimes this can happen naturally and can be driven by users. But, if you want to dictate the dialogue around your own products, you need to lead the charge with a hashtag campaign!
  • Promote your events. Almost since the inception of Instagram, hashtags have been used to collate information about various events, bringing people together through discussions, videos, and other content about real-time events
  • Help collate user-generated content (or UGC). Running a UGC campaign is infinitely easier with a hashtag. Instagram hashtags can be a great way of collecting and curating UGC posts and user feedback. Countless brands have done this to great success, such as GoPro, which even has its own hashtags related to different products, such as #goprohero5, or #goprohero7
GoPro Instagram post showing people hanggliding

Even though it is relatively easy to create a hashtag, creating a fully-fledged hashtag campaign is another story. To create a successful hashtag campaign, you need to have clear objectives, a fantastic campaign idea, a catchy hashtag, and follow it all up with ongoing campaign maintenance.

Let’s dive into how you can achieve all that in just five easy steps!

How to Execute a Hashtag Campaign on Instagram

Now that you can see the immense power hashtag campaigns hold, you might be wondering how you go about executing one.

While hashtag campaigns aren’t exactly rocket science, you do need to enter into them with clear objectives before you begin and follow through with a solid strategy and well-considered execution.

The more hashtag campaigns you run, though, the more learnings you’ll gather. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to easily see which specific hashtag campaigns work best with your target audience.

The keys to a successful hashtag campaign are strategy and planning. Here’s how to get started.

Step 1: Define Your Campaign Goals

First up, sit down and think about why you want to run a hashtag campaign. What do you hope to achieve with your campaign? Who are you targeting? Consider your goal (or goals) carefully. For instance, you might want to:

  • Increase your Instagram followers
  • Boost brand awareness
  • Promoting a new product launch
  • Promote an existing product
  • Launch a new Instagram profile
  • Boost your engagement with users
  • Increase website traffic
  • Drive sales
  • Gain new leads

You might have more than one campaign objective, depending on how long your campaign will be running for and how much budget you have to amplify it.

Once you have decided on your campaign goals, it’s crucial that you also think about how you’ll measure your campaign.

There’s no point trying to generate leads if you have no way to measure exactly how many leads came from Instagram within the campaign period. It would be like going on a diet but never stepping on the scales or measuring yourself!

Only through proper campaign measurement will you be able to understand if your campaign has been a success – and if you’ll want to run it again. So, before you begin, define your objectives and your metrics, and figure out which social media marketing tools you’ll use for reporting.

Step 2: Select Your Hashtag

The next step in your hashtag campaign is to select a catchy hashtag. Remember; you don’t really want to use trending hashtags, as you need your hashtag to be unique.

Your chosen hashtag should sum up the idea of your campaign in one short phrase. You might simply create a hashtag campaign around a certain product to gather user-generated content and promote that product.

Or, you might simply use a brand hashtag as a part of a giveaway or competition.

You’ll have to think carefully about your hashtag and ensure that it:

  • Isn’t a popular hashtag and isn’t already being used by another brand or influencer
  • Doesn’t have a strange alternate meaning, for instance, when Susan Boyl used the hashtag #susanalbumparty to promote her exclusive album listening party on social media
  • Is catchy, easy to spell, and easy to remember. If you are running the same hashtag campaign you did last year, it might be worth using the same hashtag. It should be as seamless as possible for entrants to participate
  • Ties in with your campaign goal. If you’re trying to generate brand awareness, for instance, you probably want to use a hashtag that includes your brand name. If you want to increase engagement, however, you just need a strong, catchy hashtag to encourage mass participation in a fun way
  • Ideally, you want a unique hashtag or, failing that, one that hasn’t been used in ten years!

Remember; choosing a hashtag sounds easy but it’s important to pick the right hashtag or your campaign could go from fab to flop in a matter of minutes.

Choose something fun that suits the spirit of your brand! Some of the best hashtags are the simplest. For instance, Coca-Cola’s #ShareACoke hashtag campaign was simple yet incredibly well-executed, running across several different social media channels and encouraging participation every step of the way.

Sad yet adorable brown labrador in front of a can of coke that reads 'little ripper'

And while not every brand has Coca-Cola’s enormous digital marketing budget, it doesn’t matter if you have a great idea. The ALS Association’s #IceBucketChallenge of 2014 was the perfect example of the power of a great idea. The challenge caught on quickly and eventually went viral on social media. Even celebrities like Bill Gates, Cameron Diaz, and Lindsay Lohan participated. Overall, the campaign raised awareness about ALS and helped the ALS Association increase funding by 187%.

Aside from your main campaign hashtag, you may also want to use other relevant hashtags related to your brand or campaign. Don’t make it too complicated for users to participate, though!

Step 3: Create Content

Once you’ve decided on your campaign goals, come up with a campaign idea, and selected a hashtag, it’s time to create your campaign content.

You should already have a content strategy that aligns with your overall social media marketing campaign, so how does your campaign content differ?

Well, it depends. Ideally, your hashtag campaign should be able to fit in with – and work alongside – your existing content strategy.

Yet how much content you decide to create for this specific campaign will depend on how long your hashtag campaign will be running for, how much budget and resources you’d like to devote to it, and what your overall campaign goals are.

You might want to start with a small hashtag campaign first to test how it goes. If that all goes well or you just have a really great idea, you can always create a larger campaign that runs for longer.

Above all, when it comes to content, aim for quality, not quantity! It’s better to have one awesome viral post than have ten posts that get barely any engagement, and – worst of all – don’t connect with your audience.

Many of the best hashtags revolve around connecting through sharing stories and experiences. The #MeToo movement began back in 2006 but didn’t gain traction until 2017. It was never a brand campaign.

The hashtag was originally created to shine a light on sexual abuse and establish solidarity through sharing stories on social media. Now, it has developed into a social movement, picking up momentum after it was used to uncover some of the most high-profile sexual predators in the world.

MeToo movement Instagram post

If you’re launching a campaign that is based around UGC then eventually you can start to repost user posts (with their permission, of course), which will give you a continuous stream of content and help you amplify the campaign. If you’ve used influencer marketing to help amplify your campaign you can also repost the content they have created to drive home your message.

The difficult part of managing your hashtag campaign is running it alongside your regular content. Not every single Instagram follower you have will want to take part in your hashtag campaign, so ideally you’ll want to have your regular content going live alongside your campaign content.

This is where Sked Social comes in. Sked Social allows you to schedule social media posts and even Instagram Stories seamlessly, differentiating between regular posts and campaign posts. You can create, plan, and schedule all your campaign posts, complete with hashtags, on your channels, saving you hours each week.

The best part? By automating your campaign posting you can free up your time to monitor your campaign in real-time, collate UGC posts, or interact with Instagram followers, converting them into customers in real-time.

Turbocharge your Instagram scheduling and sign up for a free 7-day trial here.

Step 4: Amplify Your Campaign

By this stage, your campaign should be set up, your posts should be scheduled and you should be ready to roll.

But before you kick off, think about how you’ll amplify your campaign. After all, if you’re a new brand on Instagram using a new branded hashtag, your reach might be pitifully low to start off with. So, then, it makes sense to try a range of tactics to give your hashtag campaign the boost that it needs!

Some amplification tactics include:

  • Influencer marketing; this could range from using 1-2 all-stair influencers to boost your campaign to a huge campaign with hundreds of influencers. This could include anything from paid influencers to more of a PR-based “outreach” program where you gift product packs or discounts to those who you think might align best with your brand, products, or services. Make sure they’re all using your campaign hashtag!
  • Paid Social Advertising; this involves using Facebook Business Manager to create ads that center around your hashtag. Your ad objective might vary drastically depending on your overall campaign objectives
  • Brand collaborations; you might team up with a brand that is similar to yours for a co-hosted hashtag campaign including a giveaway or competition. The other brand doesn’t need to be in the same industry as you, they just have to share a similar spirit or values. For instance, a sunscreen company might team up with another e-commerce brand such as a swimwear label or a brand selling beach umbrellas
  • Amplification on other channels: give your campaign a little boost by promoting it on your other channels; that might be via your email newsletter, your other social media channels, or even in-store if you have a bricks-and-mortar space

If you really want to go big, you might even use a range of different tactics to magnify the impact of your campaign. See which tactics work the best, taking into account any investment you put into them and be sure to record your learnings for next time.

Step 5: Report and Refine Your Strategy

Assuming you go into your campaign with clear goals and are decided on the reporting metrics you’ll use to measure your campaign’s success (or failure!), it won’t be too difficult to measure your campaign.

Instagram has its own Instagram analytics reports available for all Instagram business accounts, however, keep in mind that this data is limited. Unless you have no other content being posted throughout your campaign period and no activity on other channels, it’s going to be difficult to measure your results without making assumptions.

That’s why social media marketing tools can be so helpful. Simply decide on your metrics, set goals, and measure your campaign progress during and after your campaign.

Tools like Sked Social provide advanced Instagram analytics which can show you the stats on each campaign post you create during your campaign. It can also easily tag and track how many posts there are using a certain hashtag, making it easy for you to collect and collate any user-generated content produced as a result of your campaign. What could be better?

Ready to Launch Your Hashtag Campaign on Instagram?

If you think you’ve got what it takes to create a kick-ass hashtag campaign, you’re probably not wrong! Hashtag campaigns are the perfect way to generate brand awareness, boost engagement, increase your Instagram followers, and get more leads and conversions.

All you require to run a hashtag campaign is a killer strategy, a little pre-planning, and, of course, the right tools for the job.

A great hashtag campaign can also gather momentum quickly. Before you know it, your campaign will be gaining traction and you’ll be ready to do it all over again soon – whether that’s next month, next season, or next year.

However, trying to execute a hashtag campaign without any help at all is a recipe for disaster. The key to launching a successful hashtag campaign is to automate what you can and save your brainpower for the tasks that really matter. That’s where Sked Social comes in.

Instead of spending hours each week painstakingly planning and posting your Instagram content, Sked Social is a social media scheduling tool that allows you to automate your Instagram post scheduling, allowing you to launch a perfectly executed hashtag campaign that will go off without a hitch.

Discover how to use our intuitive scheduling tool so you can automate your social media marketing and work on creating unique hashtag campaigns that will help you stand out on social.

If you feel like it’s time to try out a hashtag campaign, try Sked Social and start planning today! The sooner you begin, the sooner you can launch your campaign and watch the results roll in.

Photo of Photo of Meg Andrew

Megan is a seasoned writer and social media nerd who loves to create content marketing magic. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her geeking out over a new book, watching terrible reality TV, or forcing her unwilling dog to participate in photoshoots. Find her on Twitter at @meganjaneandrew.

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