Social Media

When & How to Enter the Conversation Around Holidays like #DonutDay?

June 7, 2016

These days, it seems like every day is some kind of holiday. From #BestFriendsDay to #MargaritaDay, these hashtag holidays saturate social media feeds, tempting brands to jump in on the conversation. Yet, despite the wide-spread appeal, should brands even be a part of the conversation? The answer is yes, if done correctly.

It is important for marketers understand the distinction between right time and real time. Hashtag holidays can be “right time” opportunities if thoughtfully planned for, rather than a knee jerk, hurried reaction in real time.

In this post, we identify the current trends in hashtag holidays, and outline when and how marketers can best insert their brands into the conversation.


Hashtag Holiday Trends 

To start, let’s dive in with a recent holiday example, Donut Day. As expected, celebrations for Donut Day (or Doughnut Day) have undergone many changes since its inception in the 1930’s. At that time, the Salvation Army established the holiday to honor the “Dough Lassies” or female volunteers who made these morale-boosting treats for WWI soldiers overseas. But nowadays, with the rise of social media, consumers celebrate the holiday with photos on Instagram using hashtags like #DonutDay and #foodporn.

This year, there were over 176K #DonutDay mentions, a 10% increase from 2015, stemming from brands like Dunkin’ Donuts with paid posts across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and even Snapchat. Moreover, Donut Day has proven such a popular holiday that another Donut Day was invented for the month of November, most likely by national food councils or Foodimentary (see Chart 1).


Chart 1


To analyze what types of hashtag holidays generate the most engagement and usage, we created five different holiday categories:

1. Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG)-oriented – i.e. “National Margarita Day”

“Cheers! It’s #national Margarita Day and I am thirsty!

2. Feel good – i.e. “National Siblings Day”

“It’s national siblings day. And I just want to say I love my sister Jessica so much💜 #junioryear #lovemysister

3. Cause-related – i.e. “International Women’s Day”

“We may encounter many defeat .. #InternationalWomensDay #WomensDay #mayaangelou #Mindbody”  

4. Random – i.e. “Talk Like A Pirate Day”

“It is talk like a pirate day everyday at Arrr’s house. Yep, his name is Arrrrrr.”

5. Occupational – i.e. “Nurse’s Day”

“Happy National Nurses Day to my Beautiful wife and awesome nurse Chloe.!!!”


While CPG-oriented holidays are the most common, they are not the strongest performers in terms of conversation volume. For example, Feel Good holidays generate a lot more online buzz than CPG holidays (See Chart 2).Chart 2


We also looked at which holidays were experiencing the most growth and why. As outlined in the chart below, International Women’s Day saw the largest engagement increase year-over-year, and overall, brands, publishers and influencers are the primary drivers of hashtag holiday growth.Holidays on the Rise


Hashtag Holiday How-to for Marketers 

Certainly some of these hashtag holidays predate the advent of social media, but more will continue to be created, as shown on Sprout Social. Marketers often believe that tapping into this type of content creation is a smart and easy way to increase brand share of voice, but before doing so they should consider the following questions:

1. Is the conversation relevant for the brand?

Confirm the audience is in line with the brand’s target

Marketing around holidays is a great opportunity to reach a large audience, but brands should determine if this audience is in line with their target demographic. Consider a qualitative look at conversations for previous instances of the holidays. What is the demographic make-up of those engaging with this holiday? And is this audience in line with the brand’s core target?

Ensure the brand has a right to participate

Joining in on holiday conversation can be risky. For every praised #DonutDay post, there is equal backlash for brands tacking on to emotionally charged events such as 9/11 or Memorial Day. Marketers should consider the sentiment of the event and the appropriate role for their brand to play, even if it’s no role at all.

Stick to the brand’s tone of voice (TOV)

Marketers should consider the persona of the brand and how bringing their personality to the event will be interpreted. For example, if the brand is categorically witty, the brand’s voice may not lend itself well to somber holidays. Similarly, if a brand’s TOV is more dry and factual, posting about an eccentric holiday like National Lipstick Day may not help the brand stand out.

2. How will the brand participate?

Consider paid support

Holidays are a crowded time for conversation. For a brand to break through the clutter and have a strong presence on a certain holiday, they should consider utilizing paid media.

Explore options to own the day

If a brand can identify a holiday they would like to own, they should consider creating a larger activation around the event. For example, if a food brand wanted to own a food-centric holiday, they should plan and schedule promotional content leading up to it as well as an activation they will execute on the day. The build-up helps consumers get excited and can lead to more participation in the brand’s initiatives on the actual holiday.

Be platform specific

Marketers should consider which platforms they will be posting on and optimize their content accordingly. Beyond adjusting any creative imagery or video to fit best practices, copy should also reflect how consumers are talking about the event. For example:

  • Twitter/Instagram – what hashtags are being used to discuss the day? What is the legal risk of using this hashtag? Some hashtags are trademarked, providing the originator exclusive usage rights.
  • Facebook – hashtags are less prevalent on this platform from a user and brand perspective. Use them when appropriate.
  • Pinterest – Pinners use the platform to plan for upcoming events and holidays. Brands looking to have content discovered on the platform for a specific time period should consider posting content well in advance and optimizing copy for search.

The pressure on marketers to create real time content for social media can be daunting and, at times, lead to ineffective results, potentially damaging a brand’s image. To successfully own or participate in a “right time” hashtag holiday conversation, marketers should abide by the strategic filter outlined above. Happy Hashtag Holidays!

Catherine Fretter, Strategist, Alison Fraker, Senior Brand Strategist, Amy Donnelly, Senior Social Marketing Manager, Jaimi Sharkey, Senior Analyst, Insights & Planning, Katheryn Meagher, Senior Analyst, Insights & Planning and Robert Nelson, Intern, Insights and Planning contributed to this post.