#Hashtag Mini Turns Hotel Guests Into Brand Ambassadors

LONDON—Capturing memories of a summer vacation or a once-in-a-lifetime trip to a far-flung locale via images is pretty standard fare, but in today’s digital age there are a myriad of ways for travelers to creatively capture and then share these moments via their smartphones—Snapchat, Instagram and now, hashtag printing.

Entrepreneur and marketer Andrew Theodore aims to capitalize on this social sharing trend with #Hashtag Mini, a socially integrated digital printing platform based here. Geared toward the Millennial-minded traveler, the #Hashtag Mini stationed at the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel invites users to take a photo and hashtag it #StPancrasHotel. Then, in exchange for the promo, they can print out the image for free at one of the company’s touchscreen fixtures at the hotel.

For the uninitiated, a hashtag is a way of labeling a particular theme or topic on social media networks, which makes it easier for users to find specific content.

“#Hashtag is a business. We do brand-led marketing for events, such as photo booths and instant Polarioids, but we try to do it better or offer a different twist on standard products. No one else in the hotel industry seemed to be doing hashtag printing and it was a natural flow as many travelers are taking photos and want to remember their stay,” Theodore said.

The photo-sharing experience of the #Hashtag Mini has the potential to captivate everyone—from tech-savvy oversharers who live on social media to those who prefer to kick it old school with a printed photo they can actually touch and feel. So far, it’s been an instant hit among travelers and a social media success for the marketing team at the St. Pancreas Renaissance Hotel, according to Theodore.

“It was really created out of demand. I had clients who were running a photo booth company and, at the time, there was also the rise of Twitter and the relevance of the hashtag grew among users generating their own content on social media. You’ve seen lots of hotels that have photo booths. You get inside and take the photo, but then you want your photo and the ability to share it,” Theodore said. “What we do is much more diverse. Rather than be forced, we give users the opportunity to proactively share the moment they’re having and choose to include the brand or hotel they’re engaged with.”

There are benefits for the hotel beyond surprising and delighting guests: The #Hashtag Mini also helps to drive brand recognition on social media among the traveler’s peer group. Essentially, it’s free advertising for the hotel brand.

“The hotel benefits from the social storm. If I stay in a hotel and I like it, odds are my friends will like the same things I like. If I am there taking photos and hashtagging them, all of my friends will see it,” he said. “It’s easy to track and it’s a subtler endorsement. We’re not saying go here, but there’s a sense that users and their friends will remember it because you stayed there, shared it and printed all of your photos.”

Setting up a #Hashtag Mini doesn’t take up much space in a hotel’s lobby; the footprint of the company’s standard unit is 19.5-in. by 12-in. (50 centimeters by 30 centimeters) and about waist high. An 11.5-in. touchscreen is only slightly bigger than an iPad and inside the unit is a digital printer, doling out images in about 20 seconds. It also houses the photo paper and up to 450 prints.

“Our photos are a unique size … similar to a credit card, but slightly off. Rather than being a classic shape, images are sized for sticking on the fridge or putting in a wallet and printed with the hotel’s branding,” he said. “Branding opportunities for the hotel on the images are open. We’ve got the dimension of the photo card size, then the actual image has to be square and any of the free space around it can be branded to add logos or a photo background. We’ve done tons of campaigns with major brands. Our work is about marketing events and brand experiences. The creative teams often come up with cool and different ways to use the space around the image.”

New to the hotel industry, the team at #Hashtag held a trial run at the historic St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel to see how the unit would fit within a hotel space and how much engagement it could generate among guests. For hotels seeking to gauge its return on investment for such a device, the proof is in the social media activity.

“The St. Pancras is not the most modern, it’s historical and the unit was successful there. We increased their social media presence substantially If you went on Instagram, you’d see a mixed feed of people using the #StPancrasHotel hashtag, which is valuable in its own right. If your guests are telling all of their friends that they’re going to this hotel, then there’s going to be a financial reward,” he said. “Hotels can also rent it out the #Hashtag Mini for a profit.” 

—Corris Little