Platform Communications Views

The power of the hashtag: How one character took us beyond the box

Ten years ago the hashtag was launched on Twitter and (my) life has never been the same since. This one character turned Twitter into a much-loved sofa companion, enabling audiences all over the world to tap into online conversations that are unfolding in real-time.

Twitter’s hashtag has transformed our viewing habits and turned TV into a truly social experience where audiences can unite in their thousands, or sometimes millions, and share commentary and analysis on some of the most popular programmes on television (#Loveisland). As testament to Twitter’s popularity when it comes to second screening, research from Nielsen found that 57% of Tweets are related to live TV.

However, over the last couple of years the hashtag enabled Twitter to start breaking out of the TV shaped box it found itself in and redefine its purpose as a platform for current affairs, which included changing its category on the app store from social networking to news. This makes complete sense as it aligns with interests of the most avid Twitter users; according to Pew Research Centre 59% of users on Twitter actively look for news.

The hashtag differentiates Twitter from other news sources because it not only enables breaking news to reach people all over the world at lightning speed; it also provides a way for other news outlets to source commentary and opinions from the general public on everything from the latest episode of Game of Thrones to Presidential elections. Now, it is common and utterly acceptable for a journalist to use screenshots of random Tweets in an article to reinforce their argument.

Undeniably, the hashtag has been a catalyst for significant change for Twitter, but how has it impacted communications? Well, arguably it has improved how brands interact with their customers. Whilst many brands live in fear of being caught in the midst of a Twitterstorm, others are grabbing every opportunity the hashtag presents to react in real-time to reach their audience.

A great example of the hashtag in action is #Nuggsforcarter. Earlier this year, a Twitter user called Carter Wilkerson tweeted the US fast food chain Wendy’s and asked how many retweets he would need in order to get a year’s worth of chicken nuggets. Wendy’s response was ‘’18 million’’ and what ensued was a global campaign, supported by brands such as Google and Microsoft that gave Carter over 3 million retweets and Wendy’s a lot of positive coverage in the media.

#Nuggsforcarter highlights Twitter’s key strengths as a reactionary platform. Whilst carefully thought out and planned communications campaigns serve their purpose, there also needs to be room for spontaneity and creativity. Ultimately, Twitter is making brands and agencies realise that they have to start thinking outside of the box and go above and beyond their communications plan by always being on the look out for opportunities to promote their message, which truly highlights the power of the #hashtag.


By Zoe Mumba, Senior Account Executive