Hashtag Strategies in The Pharma Space

February 26, 2020

Hashtags are fun, right? #totally  

They’re also a powerful marketing tool that can be used strategically. But there’s a lot to think about when you’re a pharma brand choosing which hashtags to use in your content.  


A hashtag is a way to bring content together into one conversation stream. On most social platforms, creating a hashtag involves adding the # to a word or phrase (with no spaces or special characters). This allows anyone who clicks on that hashtag to see any tweet or post that contains that same hashtag. On Twitter this is what makes live tweeting so impactful. By clicking the TV show (#ChicagoMed), event (#MSWalk), or conference hashtag (#ASCO19), you can see everything that is being shared. 


The benefits of incorporating hashtags into your strategies mainly focus on connections – hashtags are
a way to index content and make it searchable (for example, searching a hashtag on a platform will allow you to view and interact with every piece of content that uses that hashtag). This can be particularly useful with conference-related content and with helping patients, caregivers and HCPs search for someone with a shared disease state experience. Hashtags can help get the word out about new treatments, experiences and other information because they allow users to search and find the content – which can also generate extra views at no cost. 


First, let’s take a more general look at the different approaches your brand can take to incorporate hashtags into its creative messaging. 

 Use pre-existing hashtags 

Opportunities: They’re established and long-standing (e.g., #MondayMotivation). That means no time pressure for creative, which allows for pre-approval following usual review timelines.  Challenges: Making sure that your brand stands out among the many others using these hashtags and aligns well with them. You may also need to include pages which host all posts with that hashtag in your MLR submission as your post could appear there.

Use in-the-moment hashtags 
Opportunities: These are hashtags that gain sudden momentum on Twitter, typically for a 12- to 24-hour timeframe. That means people are focusing on them in real-time. Great examples in the pharma space are conference-specific hashtags such as #ASCO19, which exploded with use during the 2019 ASCO conference. 

Challenges: Can require real-time creative and approval process though conference hashtags can often be planned for in advance.  

While it can be tempting to join in with a trending hashtag, the reputational risks are many, and, in the pharma space, those risks can be regulatory, too. In either case, be sure to review usage on social platforms to ensure no content is appearing with the hashtag that would be considered inappropriate or present any kind of brand reputational safety risk. 

Create a custom hashtag 

Opportunities: They are unlikely to be used by other brands – and, in fact, a best practice is to make sure the hashtag you’re considering is not already in use. They’re brand-specific, memorable and unique. Challenges: Encouraging users to proactively use the hashtag on your brand’s behalf; monitoring the hashtag to ensure it doesn’t get appropriated and used in a way you weren’t intending. 

Hashtags across Search Engines 

Opportunities: As an advertiser, there is opportunity to bid on “in the moment” tags or preexisting tags, especially around big events like conferences that could provide additional visibility into your brand or product.  Challenges: Requires some sort of onsite content to support for full opportunity for visibility at the typical low cost of bidding on search engines. 


The simplest way to incorporate hashtags into your social strategy is simply to use the brand name as a hashtag. Bear in mind you will not be able to include the generic name because special characters cannot be used in hashtags. One exception: You can create a Promoted Trend hashtag (an offering specific to Twitter) that includes special characters which would allow for the inclusion of the generic name; however, the special characters will not appear if people tap on the hashtag to use it themselves. While this is not a recommended best practice due to the lack of incentive for it to be used organically, it is worth considering if you notice your community proactively using the brand name as a hashtag. 

A more creative approach is to make the hashtag a phrase that represents something key about your brand/product. For example, Vanguard Group, which operates in the heavily regulated financial services industry, uses #InvestingLikeABoss to represent its unique ownership structure (investors own the funds which own Vanguard, so investors are technically “the boss”) as well as to create a sense of belonging and community by implying those who use the hashtag are great at investing. The lesson here: look for a phrase that connects strongly to your brand’s mission. 

Customize your approach by platform. If you are running a multi-platform campaign, then you will want to ensure the same hashtag is used across platforms for consistency. If you are only planning for one platform, then consider the characteristics of that platform: 

Twitter is the place where hashtags are used most to index conversations and join trending topics (it even has an ad type specifically geared towards encouraging hashtag use – Conversational Ads). 

• On Instagram, hashtags are used to surface your content by connecting it to the wider ecosystem of other photos and videos that have used the same hashtag. 

• Hashtags are used less frequently on Facebook

• Hashtags are used in a variety of ways on LinkedIn. Like a profile, you can follow hashtags for specific interests you may have. The platform gives users different ways to include hashtags, such as in posts, comments, and LinkedIn articles. LinkedIn also offers recommended hashtags based on the content that the user is sharing.  • •Hashtags are the foundation for content sharing on TikTok. The most common use of hashtags on TikTok is for “challenges,” in which users engage by participating in specific trends and then including the appropriate hashtag in their post.  

• On Pinterest, hashtags are used sparingly and with a focus on relevancy to aid users in finding content that is meaningful to them. According to Pinterest, Newer Pins will appear first when a hashtag is searched, so adding hashtags to older Pins is not as effective. 

• Hashtags can only be utilized in keyword targeting across search engines. Use of hashtags in ad copy across engines is prohibited. 


Noted above are best practices, whatever vertical your brand lives in. However, in the pharma space, there are some unique benefits and regulatory considerations/implications. 

If you use Promoted Trend on Twitter and you choose to include a line of copy with it, you may trigger an ISI requirement—for example, if the disease state is mentioned in the copy. 

If you make a claim in a hashtag (e.g., #OurDrugCuresYouEveryTime), safety requirements may require a scrolling ISI video to be used every time you post the hashtag. While bolder hashtags are more likely to “stick” and be used, they can also come with heavier regulatory requirements. 

It’s important to note that all this only applies to how you as the brand use the hashtag. The double-edged sword in this situation is that you have no control over how others use it. So while you are not responsible for how third parties use your hashtag, you also cannot stop people from saying whatever they want while using it. Thinking through the different ways a creative hashtag might be appropriated negatively is an important part of the development process. It shouldn’t stop you from using hashtags, but it’s critical to think about. 

Although it’s tempting—verging on seemingly obligatory—to use hashtags in your creative, it’s equally obligatory (though slightly less tempting) to ensure that your hashtag strategies are thoughtful, considered, and take in account the unique restrictions of the pharma space.