A Kickstart Guide to Culture Hashtags

WRITTEN BY: Link Humans

We’ve talked about employee advocacy a few times on this blog (see here and here), covering aspects like setting up your program, guidelines and KPIs, tool recommendations, and a few techniques to get started. One employee advocacy technique we’ve yet to discuss is the use of culture hashtags. This topic is rarely discussed in marketing blogs and marketing events, so perhaps it is time to finally talk about it.

Culture hashtags are one way that companies use to showcase their culture and values to the public, while using the reach and connections of their employees for their initiatives and recruitment. Whether it’s by sharing photos, videos, blog posts, or even just a Tweet, it’s a way to empower employees to share what makes the company a great place to work, while attracting job seekers.

So, why would a company give power to its employees to showcase what’s inside? To answer that, we need to understand what culture hashtags really are and their purpose.

What Are Culture Hashtags?

A culture hashtag is a hashtag used by a company to showcase its internal initiatives.

Now, you may have heard of brand hashtags and campaign hashtags. Here’s how they’re different from culture hashtags:

  • Culture hashtags highlight internal initiatives to the public. This goes hand in hand with other employee advocacy programs, like employees sharing content from their company website to their friends and followers (e.g. how The Next Web uses the hashtag #TNWLife), or employees sharing their work experiences (e.g. Hager Group’s #HagerGroupLife);
  • Brand hashtags are used to identify a brand, either by its name (e.g. #BTSport) or its slogan (e.g. Nike’s #JustDoIt).
  • Campaign hashtags are used to highlight campaigns (e.g. Microsoft Surface’s #SummerIsThatYou campaign), and as such they’re very short-term in use compared to culture hashtags and brand hashtags, which have better longevity.

There’s also another difference between the three hashtags. There’s no limit to who can use brand and campaign hashtags: people working for the company can use them, and so can customers, people affiliated with the brand, or pretty much anyone who wants to use them.

A culture hashtag like #LifeAtLinkHumans or Starbucks’ #ToBeAPartner, however, defines conversations about corporate culture – what it’s like to work at Link Humans, and what it’s like to be a Starbucks partner. So, while the audience includes anyone, the people using the hashtags are the people working for the company.

Culture hashtags are unique to the company, and they’re part of its branding, marketing, and EVP (Employee Value Proposition, the balance of the rewards and benefits that employees receive in return for their work performance).

Culture hashtags are often used to share job opportunities, but not in a “cold call” way: they work better when used to tell your brand story from within while attracting people to join your team. Here are a few ways you can use these hashtags:

  • Sharing company news: employees can share the news that matters most to them, news that touches them, that makes them proud to work for you.
  • When telling employee stories, highlighting their efforts and sharing their achievements to the public.
  • When writing about new initiatives, your latest internal campaigns, or any cool stuff that you’d like the public to know.
  • On your website, giving extra exposure to your hashtag. For example, Starbuck’s career site refers to the hashtag throughout the site, while explaining what it really means to them.
  • In your email signatures, for emails going out internally and externally. When sent internally, it serves as a constant reminder that your company has a culture hashtag, that people are using it, and that perhaps they should check it out too. When sent externally, it’s an excellent way to spread the news to those who might not know about your hashtag. That works as an invitation for people to check out what your employees are sharing with that hashtag.

People clicking on that hashtag will have an insider view of what it’s like to work for you. It’s not about a job role or a job description – it’s about your employees telling the story about the company they work for in a way that no recruiter can.

Let’s have a look at how three companies use culture hashtags in their unique ways: Starbucks, Kohl’s, and Twitter.

1. Starbucks’s Mission Hashtag: #ToBeAPartner

The hashtag #ToBeAPartner has been a Starbucks tradition since 2013, and it’s one of the most known (and most used) culture hashtags to date. With an average of 400 mentions every week on Twitter alone, it’s definitely a successful hashtag. That’s not just because of the company that’s driving it, Starbucks, but mainly because of how its employees use it.

Starbucks Partners (employees) have the liberty to use the hashtag when talking about their experiences working for the company. Whether as a Tweet or a Vine, as an Instagram video or a full-length YouTube video, Starbucks Partners are free to talk about their experiences working for the company. While most posts with the hashtag are positive, some aren’t so positive: to be transparent, the hashtag shows the good and the bad of working for Starbucks. A lot of Vines with that hashtag also have the hashtag #BaristaProblems, tagged into relatable videos depicting the everyday struggles of being a barista.

This is all part of Starbuck’s plan, striving for transparency: if you want your employees to talk about their stories, you can’t expect all of these stories to be positive. If anything, once given the option to talk about personal experiences using a hashtag that will be seen by many, these employees will expect that action be taken when needed if any negative sentiment were to emerge from people using the hashtag.

Starbucks’ #ToBeAPartner hashtag also reinforces the notion that Starbucks doesn’t want just employees, but people with stronger ties, and it’s something that prospective applicants can easily see just by scrolling through the hundreds of social media posts tagged with #ToBeAPartner.

To encourage more people to share their experiences and give them an even bigger platform, Starbucks have set up partner accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. While you can browse public #ToBeAPartner Facebook posts, Starbucks uses the Starbucks Partners Facebook page to regularly share experiences from its employees. The same applies to their Twitter and Instagram accounts. These stories include announcements, news, local initiatives, as well as perks for Partners. That way, the hashtag becomes a medium for partners to talk to themselves about experiences, news, opportunities, and various other tidbits.

2. Kohl’s Daily Brand Hashtag

This is what happens when you give employees a hashtag and tell them to have fun with it. The most organic, genuine example of culture hashtags I’ve seen is from Kohl’s, with the #LifeAtKohls.

A potential average of 90k people see this hashtag on Twitter and Instagram every day – that’s a pool of people who may become Kohl’s new customers, new advocates, or new recruits just by looking at the genuine posts from Kohl’s employees. They balance their work/life balance pretty well, but every time they want to celebrate their work life, they use the #LifeAtKohl’s hashtag.

The #LifeAt(BRAND) formula is quite common: Shopify’s brand hashtag is #LifeAtShopify (more on Shopify later), while Link Humans use #LifeAtLinkHumans.

The hashtag isn’t the only way that Kohl’s employees use to share what it’s like to work for the company: Kohl’s also has a hiring Twitter account, @KohlsCareers. That works as the go-to place for anyone who’d like to know more about career opportunities at Kohl’s, as well as any related information, like any awards won or other accolades.

There’s also a separate account, @JobsAtKohls, that only tweets out job opportunities at Kohl’s, using the hashtag #LifeAtKohls. This is an excellent way of organising your employee advocacy program:

  • have a hashtag that your staff can use to share their work experiences,
  • have a hub that people can go to for latest updates on the great stuff you’re currently doing internally, while sharing some of the best posts from your employees,
  • have another hub that people can subscribe to if they just want to hear of your latest job opportunities.

Kohl’s does employee advocacy right, as well as social media in general. In fact, it’s been a pretty great season for Kohl’s on social media.

There’s another reason why this is one of the best examples of culture hashtags: just look at how enthusiastically Kohl’s employees use the hashtag. Out of all the hashtags I identified in the past few weeks, this was the second most used (after Starbucks’ #ToBeAPartner), with an average of 400 Tweets every week. I scrolled through the Tweets and the Instagram posts and I was thoroughly impressed by how active it was. The vibe I got from those pictures was very positive, and it felt so genuine that I can see it as a direct representation of Kohl’s company culture (Jörgen Sundberg briefly talked about it here).

3. Twitter: Multiple Hashtags for Multiple Causes

It’s interesting to see how Twitter uses Twitter, something that perhaps needs another post, but let’s focus on how they use culture hashtags.

Twitter’s overarching theme revolves around recruitment, and the hashtag for it is the well-known #jointheflock, along with the @JoinTheFlock account. That’s how Twitter uses Twitter to recruit.

The main purpose of that hashtag is to attract new recruits to Twitter, and Twitter employees use it in two ways:

  1. To share job opportunities with their friends and followers
  2. To share what it’s like to work for Twitter

Work-life is something that is often omitted from job descriptions, which focus very much on what the job entails but not really on what joiners can expect once they join. By using the #JoinTheFlock hashtag to promote just that, it gives job seekers a chance to experience Twitter life through the eyes of those who already work there.

While Twitter’s overarching theme revolves around #jointheflock, there are other themes too. Most of them have their own hashtag and a Twitter account to go with it. These campaigns were not only brought in to tackle issues, celebrate diversities and highlight areas of improvement, but also to aid employee retention. The main ones are:

  • Women in Engineering, a group that aims to inspire girls and women to pursue education and careers in engineering. It’s a group made up of women, men, engineers, and non-engineers who share the same passion to build a diverse and inclusive workplace at Twitter. Their account is @WomEng.
  • TwitterOpen, a group that aims to connect every LGBTQA person in the company with each other, allies, and other communities. Their account is @TwitterOpen.
  • Black Birds, Twitter’s internal group for employees of color. Their account is @Blackbirds, and their hashtag is #Blackbirds.
  • Alas (Latino and Latin American descent), Twitter’s group dedicated to empowering Latino and Latin American employees. Their account is @TwitterAlas.
  • WomenUX (Women in Design), a group for women working in UX. Their account is @WomenUX.
  • Swat (Super Women at Twitter). This doesn’t have a hashtag or an account, but it’s purely an internal initiative that sometimes gets mentioned in tweets from @WomEng and @WomenUX.

Out of all these, Blackbirds is the most prolific initiative with the biggest account (with over 88k followers, as of May 2016) and the most mentioned hashtag (with an average of 20 mentions every week).

Blackbirds celebrate and encourage diverse perspectives, a very important factor for people who may think of applying for Twitter but are a bit apprehensive due to their past problems in diversity (something which they’ve been working very hard to fix).

Having employees using your hashtag isn’t only enough: sometimes you need to publicly show what you’re doing to take care of what matters to your employees the most. For some it may be recruiting at colleges and universities for underrepresented talent (@TwitterU), for others, it may be encouraging more women to take on engineering roles (@WomEng). Just seeing how active Twitter is in the community and how committed the company is to a more diverse Twitter may inspire people to apply to work there.

A great company sees opportunities in these challenges, and a great modern company shows how it takes these opportunities on board with the power of social media. That’s exactly what Twitter is doing.

Twitter has other initiatives that cater to staff internally. The fact that there’s a public hashtag for most of them shows that Twitter wants to show these achievements off to everyone, proudly. Twitter wants people to know about these efforts while encouraging people to come into work for a company that always strives to do more for its employees. That also helps towards employee retention: when you work for a company as big as Twitter, with almost 40 offices around the world and 3.8k employees, local efforts can often be overshadowed by company-wide efforts. Both are equally important, and sometimes all it takes to give your local efforts a voice is a hashtag.

So You Want a Culture Hashtag?

We’ve talked about the great, positive side of having a culture hashtag. What negative things should you expect? For starters, expect people hijacking it. Just like people may “jump” on a campaign hashtag, people may hijack your hashtags too, mainly for three reasons:

  • people using it to promote their agenda,
  • other accounts using it without realizing that it’s already in use,
  • spam accounts using the hashtag as soon as their algorithms detect that your hashtag is getting a lot of attention.

This can happen whether you have a startup, a small company, or an enterprise. Take Twitter for example. Twitter isn’t the only company using the hashtag #jointheflock. There’s also a brewery in Amsterdam called “Amsterdam Craft beer” that occasionally uses the hashtag.

The hashtag was also used during Migration Week, an annual tour by Goose Island Beer, with the aim to give beer lovers a chance to try some of their best and rarest beers.

Same hashtag, different context. While this can’t be prevented in most cases, you need to make sure not to include irrelevant and out of context mentions in your reporting, so your numbers won’t be skewed when it’s time to measure the performance of your culture hashtag.

So, what if you want to have your own culture hashtag? Here are 5 things you need to consider before you go ahead:

  1. Why do you want one? What’s the purpose of your hashtag? Is that to drive sales? Is that as part of a recruitment campaign? Is that just a one-off hashtag or a lifelong hashtag? Take the purpose into consideration before you come up with a hashtag that will be associated (temporarily or permanently) with your brand. The aim of The Next Web’s #TNWLife hashtag is twofold: to share what it’s like to work for TNW (recruitment), and for personal posts (content creation) which reside in the TNW Life section of their website (thenextweb.com/tag/tnwlife).
  2. How are you going to use it? Will your culture hashtag be part of any posts you send out? Is it going to be limited to only one social platform? Is that something you want to be known for? For instance, #ToBeAPartner is a steeple hashtag for Starbucks on social media, on their website, as well as in their stores, where some of their leaflets to join the team often contain the hashtag too, encouraging would-be applicants to check out what it’s like to work for Starbucks. You could also promote your hashtag by having an auxiliary account: for instance, #ToBeAPartner is the hashtag, while @StarbucksPartners is the catch-all account, the hub to go-to for people who want to see a selection of some of the best #ToBeAPartner posts, along with other content that isn’t from employees but it’s still relevant, like announcements, job openings, and other information of that sort. Job seekers really want to see what it’s like to work for you, so make it easy for them to have the inside scoop that only employees could give.
  3. How are you going to encourage/promote it? Just having a hashtag isn’t enough: for it to be effective, you need to have people involved in it. Without the right incentives and a proper understanding of why you have a brand hashtag, the hashtag will be underused. Take for example Shopify’s #LifeAtShopify. This is similar to Kohl’s #LifeAtKohls – same formula, same purpose. Some may argue that the volume of branded tweets is proportional to the size of the brand on social: if we look at Twitter alone, Kohl’s have 650k followers, while Shopify has about 200k. However, the fact that the Shopify culture hashtag gets an average of 10 mentions per week is indicative of their internal strategy. Perhaps their staff don’t feel compelled to share what it’s like to work at Shopify. Perhaps they haven’t been given enough incentive to use the hashtag in the first place. Perhaps they prefer using the hashtag only for important events. Whatever the case may be for Shopify, ask yourself: would your staff feel the same way about your culture hashtag?
  4. Is your hashtag unique? While most hijacks may be inevitable, it’s a lot easier for people to hijack a culture hashtag that isn’t “branded”. For instance, if you were to see the #jointheflock hashtag for the first time on social media, you wouldn’t know that it belonged to Twitter. That is in contrast with hashtags like #VodafoneLife or #LifeAtLinkHumans, where the hashtag refers to the brand it belongs to.
  5. How are you going to measure its success? What’s the measure of success for your brand hashtag(s)? The number of mentions? Reach? Positive sentiment? If you have a sophisticated analytics tool, you could track the click-throughs and leads to the site from posts that don’t contain the hashtag versus those that do.

One last thing to consider: encouraging people to engage in conversations about their work-life is a healthy practice that more workplaces should take on board. This can’t be effective if your only intention is to broadcast stories. Culture hashtags shouldn’t just be used for broadcast, but rather to open a dialogue. For this program to work, you need to listen to what’s being said through your culture hashtag and have appropriate measures in place to take action if need be. So, if a negative post pops up that uses your culture hashtag, instead of ignoring it or shunning the post, listen, take positive action, and reinforce the idea that you’re trying to build a better and more transparent workplace, one hashtag at a time.


Our newsletter is exclusively curated by our CEO, Jörgen Sundberg, for leaders who make decisions about talent. Subscribe for updates on The Employer Branding Podcast, new articles, eBooks, research and events we’re working on.


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