While you’ve probably seen the hashtags #throwbackthursday and #TBT thrown around, you might not have tried using them much. Used primarily on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, Throwback Thursday posts can liven your marketing campaigns up and generate real results — that is, if you know how to use them right.

To help you figure out how to navigate this trend, we pulled together everything you need to know about using #TBT in your marketing. And if you want to see a #TBT campaign in action, head over to INBOUND, the Blog — we’re celebrating #INBOUNDtbt with a visual history of our INBOUND conference, complete with a throwback discount on tickets.

What Is Throwback Thursday?

While it’s particularly popular on Instagram, posts with the hashtags #TBT or #throwbackthursday can be found on almost any social platform. Don’t have a big presence on Instagram? Try using the hashtags in relevant blog posts, a YouTube video, or sharing your social networks. Look around you: Hundreds of millions of posts — most of them photos — carry one or both of these hashtags.

How Did #TBT Start?

Per Know Your Meme, the term appeared on Urban Dictionary in 2003 and animator Saxton Moore’s blog in 2006. Liz Gannes’ history of #TBT starts in 2006 with a recurring feature on Matt Halfhill’s sneaker blog, places the first Twitter instance in 2008, and traces #TBT’s emergence on Instagram in 2011 (around the same time the app enabled hashtag functionality). 

Qualities of Good #TBT Posts

The art of Throwback Thursday is selecting an appropriately nostalgia-inducing picture from a different era of your life,” writes Katie Knibbs on Digital Trends. To apply it to your business, come up with a short list of things that are P.R.A.I.S.E.worthy:

Past: Think 3+ years old, and ideally, 20+
Relevant/Relatable: Relevant to your business and your audience 
Appealing: Fun, funny, catchy, nostalgic, or otherwise cool
Interesting: Especially to people outside your company (besides your mom)
Shareable: Great #TBTs make others look cool for re-sharing
Exciting: Choose subjects that create interest, discussion and even excitement

Want to see some great examples P.R.A.I.S.E.worthy #TBT posts from brands? Check ’em out below.

Star Wars

Perhaps the ultimate #TBT marketing move is to make someone feel nostalgic. The Star Wars franchise had a #TBT hit with this post of a 70s-era ad for their action figures collector’s case:


#ThrowbackThursday – Yeah! Action poses! Those are the best kind of poses. #StarWars #vintage #TBT

A video posted by Star Wars (@starwars) on Dec 11, 2014 at 4:03pm PST

A study by Janine LaSaleta cited in Entrepreneur on nostalgia marketing found that the social connectedness people feel when presented with nostalgia actually make them value money less and spend more freely. There’s a fine art to nostalgia — check out that article for ideas about product reintroduction and other business strategies for making use of it.

Ellen DeGeneres

If nothing else, be funny. While there are some effective #TBT shares that aren’t humorous, the very best ones usuallly make people chuckle. Have a few different pictures of your company’s founding team to choose from? Go for the goofiest. Awkward yearbook photos are awesome. Baby photos are almost never wrong.

Ellen wraps humor with nostalgia in this silly #TBT Photoshop of her face for Princess Leia’s:

Herman Miller

You can also use #TBT to show respect for the classics. Furniture design brand Herman Miller hits their connoisseur audience’s sweet spot by sharing famous designers Ray and Charlie Eames’ Case Study House No. 8.

Paul McCartney

Try matching your #TBT post to a holiday or anniversary. It’s ok if it’s an “inside baseball” occasion for your company as long as you make it relatable to others outside your company. Paul McCartney’s special #WorldBookDay #TBT is one example:

Steve Tyler

Can you tie your #TBT something relevant going on in the world? It’s a silly joke that won’t last, but Steven Tyler jumped on the online “controversy” about The Dress by sharing this snap of him on a blue-and-black striped shirt: 

Qualities of a Bad #TBT Post


If you want to make a splash for the right reasons with your #TBT post, make sure to avoid the following things.

Being Selfish

Like everything in social media, a successful #TBT promo isn’t actually about you. It’s about your reader. Can you make them laugh? Get them excited? Teach them something? Give them tips they can use? Most of all, think about giving them something they can re-share and look good.

Being Irrelevant

Being cute for cute’s sake has pretty limited appeal. Make your throwback entertaining and relevant — both to your audience’s needs and popular events. 

Being Boring 

Boring is a lesser evil than selfishness or irrelevance, but if absolutely none of your #TBT posts are generating a response, reconsider your approach. Consistently boring #TBT attempts probably won’t endanger your brand, but continuing when it’s just not working out is a waste of your time.

The heavy-handed brand hashtag on this Burger King attempt is only part of why it went right off the rails (some replies NSFW). “Where were you” posts only create nostalgia if used on really compelling and universal experiences. Chalk this up as what not to do:

Popular Types of #TBT Posts

Ready to try your hand at #TBT? Here are a few post types to consider and examples of brands rocking them.

Retro Images

On Instagram, Allstate shared this beautiful image of a 30s-era book: Favorite Songs of the Allstate Singers. The company used to give this away to callers who were listening to their radio programs. Bet you didn’t know people were inbound marketing via the radio and physical offers way back when, huh?

90s References

While it pains me that some people (and my own kids) see the 90s as some exotic faraway time (cough: my college years), there are great reasons nostalgia branding and marketing makes so much use of this decade. As the Entrepreneur piece points out, you get two generations for the price of one. Millennials remember their childhoods while their folks recall becoming new parents. 

In perhaps the ultimate #TBT, National Geographic Channel threw this live party featuring Vanilla Ice to promote their 90s TV show:


Actual History

Where it comes to #TBT, pretty much the only thing that trumps nostalgia, humor, and 90s references is legitimate history. Check out the Discovery Channel sharing a NASA #TBT on Facebook:

Similarly, General Electric nails it with this tweet:

This works because it’s bigger than GE itself — it’s part of our tech history. It’s also really cool looking, and a little mind-blowing that we had photovoltaics more than 75 years ago. 

Wendy’s #TBT below also works well — not only because it’s a retro picture, but also because drive-throughs have become the fast food industry standard. Wendy’s has a rightful claim to a piece of history. Sharing that fact as a #TBT makes a relatively humble way to brag about that.

Sports Highlights

In this YouTube example, the throwback is footage of an amazing move by Arsenal player Alexis Sanchez. Note the clip’s clear business goal (YouTube subscribers) and humorous/relevant call-to-action (a click-to-subscribe annotation on Sanchez’ chest): 

Trivia and Games

Check out Snuggle fabric softener’s strategy to engage Facebook Fans with regular #TBT posts. The Instagram-esque formatting tells fans this is a #TBT post, and the “polaroid” image in the image is taken from one of their historical ads. The sharing copy asks Fans to guess what year the ad is from, giving them both a bit of a game to play, and a compelling reason to comment on the image:


Vintage Products

Cosmetics brand Birchbox’s #TBT Beauty Edition is a blog series on beauty fads of the past. Each post features an iconic product and then suggests something from their collection that’s a better modern replacement. Here, Pond’s cold cream brings the nostalgia while a (modern) $25 skin cleansing kit is promoted for sale.

How to Use #TBT in Your Marketing

Tips for Your First #TBT

Okay, so let’s say you want to dip your toe in the #TBT pool. How should you get started?

A great first post can come from asking around your company for some of the earliest photos anyone ever took. This could be your founders, preferably looking a bit silly. Maybe the hilariously cramped first office space, or a now ugly and primitive looking first sketch or prototype of your product. For retail locations, the popular habit of pinning the first dollar bill to the wall behind the cash register is an ideal #TBT candidate. Find a picture of the owner holding up that dollar, or have them pose with the one on the wall.

Found a picture that could work? Great! Now, experiment with captions that help your audience “get” the #TBT connection and make the image more shareable. Be sure to customize the caption to the platform you share it on. Think: as brief as possible for Twitter, a short paragraph for the Facebook version, and strike a happy medium between those two for an Instagram share.

Get Down With OPT

What’s OPT? Other People’s Throwbacks! Yes, #TBT is such a fun, lighthearted phenomenon that it’s not uncommon for someone’s #TBT to be a re-share of someone else’s throwback that’s also relevant.

In this example, @GrandHyattNYC shares a video the @NYPost published, featuring the oldest-known video footage of the city. Since the topic is relevant to both of their audiences, it was a perfect opportunity for Grand Hyatt to share New York Post’s #TBT.

Get Your Community to #TBT

Why not try a throwback Thursday promotion that makes #TBT sharing fun and relevant for your community?

Here’s what we did. Our #INBOUNDtbt promo for discounted tickets to the INBOUND conference was simple to put together. We blogged this visual history of the conference, featuring video recaps, speaker photos, and interesting tidbits about each year of the conference. Readers that share the post and their INBOUND memories using #INBOUNDtbt are rewarded with “Throwback Pricing” on their conference ticket.

Getting your community to #TBT could be as complicated as a custom interactive site for creating posts, or as simple as designating a specific custom #TBT hashtag that encourages folks to share with — and check out — each others’ themed #TBTs. Maybe you can set up an appealing frame for their images or even a “green screen” effect that makes their image appear amongst something funny or famous? 

Expedia did an incredible job of this move in the summer of 2014 with their #ThrowMeBack contest. Fans posted a #TBT photo they most wanted to recreate. The winners got travel vouchers to return to the site of their photo and recreate it with the friends and family who were originally in it.

Measure Your #TBT

There’s no one set way to measure how well your #TBT is working, because there’s no one set goal you’re always pursuing — it depends on your business, your audience, and your campaign.

A #TBT designed to get people talking about one of your ebooks, for example, should be measured by social shares and ultimately by the quality of leads generated by that campaign. Other #TBTs might be PR stunts, brand awareness efforts, or attempts to build up your following on a social channel. You can do a #TBT post that gets your audience talking among themselves, leaving your brand with more social capital earned by way of the human connections nurtured. Maybe your influencer marketing team has a great idea for a charming #TBT that puts you on the radar of someone whose audience would be valuable to your business.

My point is that whatever business goal you’re trying to accomplish, you should think about how you will measure and evaluate how well your #TBT efforts accomplished it. The exact metrics will vary.

Next Steps

As you get more comfortable joining #TBT, you might also want to branch out into some of the other fun themed days of the week. Depending on your style, #ManicMonday, #MusicMonday, or even #ManCrushMonday might lend themselves to a fun brand share. #TransformationTuesday lets you show off drastic before and after photos (if your product involves that), and next up is #HumpDay, or for health related brands, #WellnessWednesday. #FanFriday is a great day to encourage your biggest fans to share their related pictures, and #FollowFriday lets you shine some attention on outstanding accounts your readers might like. Anything involving cute pictures of cats? #Caturday! Brands have played with #SelfieSunday by posting offbeat product or logo pics, or gone for #SundayFunday to show their lighter side. Just want to tag your best or only picture that day? #Picoftheday. 

P.S. While there’s #FlashbackFriday for those who forgot to post their #TBT on a Thursday, and #WayBackWednesday for people who just can’t wait, we think you’re better off sticking to Thursdays. Don’t worry, #TBT will be right back before you know it!

Have you used #TBT in your marketing before? How’d it work for your business?

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