An Analysis of the Curious but Prosperous Hashtag

Tara Peterson

Being a creative person who also appreciates the work of others, I’ve always really enjoyed the quote by Picasso: “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

As a 21st century marketing professional, I’ve come up with my own words of wisdom: “Pay attention to what sticks and ask why.”

Today, I now find both of those concepts converging in the most unexpected place, the public unisex bathrooms at Hotel Vandivort in Springfield, Missouri. The #HotelVandivortBathroomSelfie emerged a few months after the hotel’s opening in July of 2015, featuring a variety of people taking selfies in front of the very well-lit mirrors in one of the 5 public bathrooms below ground level. This hashtag has admittedly caused me a great deal of confusion when I initially heard about it and has since gained quite a bit of momentum, including 500+ Instagram posts and a feature on the Springfield CVB website.  It wasn’t until I was explaining hashtag best practices in my subsequent meetings with other hotels did I turn to the #HotelVandivortBathroomSelfie and realize why the formula behind this hashtag was so successful.

Asking Why

First and foremost, the hashtag works because it encourages one of the greatest movements of the modern age: The Selfie. It sounds silly, but people seem to really enjoy taking them. The song “Let Me Take A Selfie” hit #16 on the US Hot 100 Billboard in 2014. The same year, Business Insider published an article called Selfie Sticks Are Selling Out Everywhere. Look at an Instagram feed just searching “#selfie”, there are over 260 million posts. Granted, it’s a bit vain, but even as the song implies, most people are all pretty aware of how silly taking a selfie can be, but take them anyways.

Which brings us to the next big reason this hashtag works: It communicates to people that there’s a place for these snapshots where you can not only look good, but you can do it behind closed doors. In this space, guest overcome that feeling of silliness or embarrassment and can feel comfortable just taking a really funny or glamorous shot. But more than providing a secure space, it’s telling us there’s a designated place for your selfie. It’s like a digital version of Paris’s Pont des Arts “Love Lock” Bridge or Seattle’s Gum Wall. There’s a predetermined stage waiting for your contribution. In this case of the bathroom selfie, it feels even more special because your selfie is something that’s more visually personal that chewed gum. Now your face is part of a movement. The designated place is the sweet sauce in the formula, the “secret” that people are letting each other in on: “Bathroom”, or rather, the lighting in the bathroom. It’s all a little less than glamorous, but wait until you stand in front of that mirror and then come talk to me.

Interestingly enough, every article I’ve ever read about hashtags encourages you to keep them short and to the point, but this case study flips all that on its head in my mind. No, this hashtag isn’t riddled with prepositions, but it is a whopping 28 characters. This brings me to the beginning of #HotelVandivortBathroomSelfie which features the hotel’s full name, not shortened and not represented by an acronym. Those of us in the hotel industry know that hotel names can get pretty long, but if you can get it all in there, I’d say it’s worth it. Not only do we get the full brand recognition, but it’s encouraging our guest’s followers to check us out at the least and inviting them to stop by and take their own selfie at best. Additionally, I think there’s something to be said for leading with the location/brand. It’s not a second thought slapped on the end of a hopeful social movement, but a well-placed, unapologetic group of letters that force you to read them and give credit where credit is due.

Stealing The Why

Of course, my next train of thought reverts back to Picasso: How can I implement these characteristics so that future campaigns I oversee are more successful, like this one?

What makes this movement so fun is that a business isn’t encouraging it; rather, real people are. If it will ever gain momentum, I believe we need to keep it that way. Many may disagree with me, but I’d still be hesitant to turn it into a contest, event, or call-to-action. Rather, let’s give it a nod so that people that visit the hotel can easily stumble upon it and be excited by the movement, rather than making them RSVP to the invite.

So no, ultimately in a way, we would never be able to replicate this movement, and Picasso makes a good point. I could copy it, but I’d be more successful if I “stole” the fundamental pieces we established before and adapted them to my particular hotel’s campaign:

– Speak to people’s pre-established desire to perform actions or take certain types of photos, whether they be food shots, horizon shots, or selfies.

– Acknowledge the place or a reason for the activity so that others can pick up on the secret, whatever crazy thing it might be — good lighting, giant red penguins, a mustache on a stick.

– Finally, grab your brand by the horns and somehow find a way to get that bad boy in there in a way that’s relevant and prominent. After all, it’s because of you that they have this secret.

– On a side note, I’d also caution from pushing your followers or customers into engaging in a specific hashtag, your greatest ally is probably people that have already done it.

Will #HotelVandivortBathroomSelfie ever fizzle out? Maybe eventually, but in my opinion, it will probably continue to be a pleasant surprise for years to come before it does. Even if locals continue to be its biggest driving force, new people join Instagram every year and each person has any number of followers who might only see it once to inspire to create their own well-lit self-portrait.