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Once upon a time, a man named Chris Messina posted on Twitter to suggest using the hashtag symbol (that’s this little guy ‘#’ who is also known as the pound sign, or if you’re really fancy, an ‘octothorp’) to group messages on a particular topic together on social media.

The idea caught on and the not so humble hashtag was born.

Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon’s hashtag skit on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

Hashtags may have become an essential part of the social media experience, but what about their role in competitions? When it comes to running a competition or giveaway, should you use hashtags – and if so, how do you use hashtags for competitions and which hashtags are best to use for giveaways?

Should you use hashtags for competitions?

To hashtag, or not to hashtag, that is the question.

To answer this, we need to first ask a couple more questions:

1. What are you trying to achieve with your competition?

If the goal of your competition is to increase usage of a hashtag, attempt to get your hashtag to trend on social media or you’re set on collecting entries via social media and want an easy way to find and sort your entries, hashtags are a good fit. If, however, you’re aiming to build your email list or sell a certain product, hashtags are not the answer.

2. What is your entry method?

If you are wanting your entrants to enter via a form on your website, why do you need a hashtag?! Think logically about whether inventing, promoting and maintaining a unique hashtag for your competition helps you achieve your goal and collect your entries, or whether it’s an unnecessary distraction from your main entry method.

3. Who is your ideal entrant?

Who is your ideal entrant? This one’s kind of important. If you’re targeting octogenarians with your in-home care service, they’re unlikely to know what an octothorp is, let-alone how to use one. If your audience is on social media, is likely to enter via social media, knows what a hashtag is and uses them regularly; it’s probably a safe bet to include hashtags in your competition.

At the end of the day, hashtags need to work for you, not the other way around. If hashtags make your competition – and your life – easier, then go for it.

How do you use hashtags for competitions and giveaways?

There are two main ways to leverage the mighty hashtag during your competition or giveaway, the first is to use hashtags to help others find your competition and the second is to use hashtags to help you find and collect entries for your competition.

USING HASHTAGS TO GET YOUR COMPETITION FOUND

As you now know, hashtags were ‘invented’ to help group together posts on a similar topic, or in other words, to help keep content organised and help users find said content.

You can leverage hashtags to help people find your competition by tagging your competition posts with relevant hashtags.

Let’s say you’re a jewellery designer running a competition to win a custom, handmade piece of jewellery. To help the right people find your competition and enter, you’re going to want to use hashtags relevant to your industry and customer base – for example hashtags such as #jewellerydesigner and #handcraftedjewellery rather than #quoteoftheday or #dogsofinstagram.

You can also use a dedicated competition hashtag to help keep all of your competition-related posts organised – tagging your competition posts with something like #companynamecompetition or #nameofcompetition will bring all of your competition posts up in a search for that specific hashtag.

Which leads us nicely to…

USING HASHTAGS AS A COMPETITION ENTRY METHOD

Another use for hashtags when it comes to competitions, is to use them to group together competition entries and make them easier for you to find when it’s time to pick your winner.

By asking your entrants to enter via social media and use a specific hashtag to tag their post and/or entry, you’re more likely to be able to find all of your entries quickly and easily when it comes time to pick your winner.

However.

Yes, there’s always a ‘however’. Using hashtags as your competition entry method is only useful if:

  1. Your entrants’ accounts are public and not private.
  2. You use a completely unique hashtag.

Even if someone uses your carefully – and no doubt lovingly – created hashtag on their competition entry post, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to find it. If someone has their account set to private, then their post will not appear in a search for that hashtag.

Signpost with the word ‘PRIVATE’ in white text against a black background. Shoutout to Tim Mossholder on Unsplash for the photo.

Even if all of your obedient entrants ensure their accounts are set to public, there’s another hurdle to overcome when using hashtags as an entry method.

If you don’t choose a completely unique hashtag that’s not in use by anyone else on the social media platform, you’re going to get a lot of posts appear that aren’t entries to your competition and your time and energy is going to be spent trying to work out which posts are entries and which posts aren’t.

Remember that hashtags are a great way to group content together on a social media site or app, but you still need a fair, unbiased and legal way to draw your winner. Since closing your eyes and scrolling is not considered a legal method of drawing a winner and platforms like Facebook and Instagram do not let you bulk download posts tagged with a certain hashtag; before embarking on a hashtag competition, you may wish to consider how you’re going to draw your winner(s) legally using this entry method.

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Competition hashtags to avoid…

Before you start hashtagging away, let’s think strategically for a moment.

It might seem like a no brainer to tag your competition with #competition, but there are there are, unfortunately, some hashtags that it’s best to avoid when it comes to tagging your competition or giveaway on social media.

If you haven’t heard of a prize pig, it’s probably time to learn. A prize pig, otherwise known as a comper, is someone who enters competitions regardless of the prize on offer, the products being promoted or the brand running the competition. It’s simply about winning a prize, any prize.

So what? You may ask. Well, if you want a hope of converting your entrants into paying customers, or you you’re keeping an eye on your ROI, you might want to think about attracting genuine entrants and leads, rather than prize pigs.

Here’s a list of hashtags I actively avoid using during competitions:

#competition #giveaway #contest #win #winaprize #wina[prize details] (e.g. #winanecklace) #enter #enternow #entertowin #free #competitiontime #competitions #competitionpackage #[prize]competition (e.g. #jewellerycompetition) #[industry]competition (e.g. #beautycompetition) #competitions[country] (e.g. #competitionsaustralia) #contestalert #contestgram #contestgiveaway #contests #contestoftheday #giveawaycontest #giveawaytime #giveawayalert #giveaway[prize] #giveaway[industry] etc.

Use your noggin and think of hashtags that will get your competition (and business) in front of people who will actually want to buy your products, not just win free stuff.

Hashtags have their place on social media (obviously), but they don’t always have a place in competitions and giveaways. Think carefully about whether you should – or need – to use hashtags for your competition. If you decide to incorporate them into your competition strategy, think about how you will leverage them to get your competition found and/or to collect entries… and please, for the love of all things holy on social media, please don’t use spammy competition hashtags. Not only will you be competing with 15 million (true story) other posts tagged with the #competition hashtag, you’ll attract entirely the wrong kind of audience.

If you need a hand strategising your competition, I’d love to help! Get in touch with me, or book in a free strategy session #winwin!