Want to get more people to view and interact with your social media updates? Put a hashtag on them.
Hashtags were originally popularized by Twitter and used as a way to group Tweets by keywords. For example, music bloggers covering the South by Southwest music festival might use the hashtag #SXSW, and Twitter users who are interested in getting updates from the event could follow that tag in order to see all updates that include it.
Hashtags, however, are no longer confined to Twitter. Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, and Facebook have all adopted the hashtag, meaning that it can be used consistently across platforms. It’s a great marketing tool because, as you may have gathered from the above description, it attracts views from people who are interested in specific topics or products. Hashtags also make it easy for brands and consumers to find and share each other’s content; in fact, tweets with hashtags receive twice the engagement of those without hashtags.
As with any internet marketing tactic, there are effective and ineffective ways to employ hashtags. In this post, I’ll cover some of the things to avoid along with six good ways to use hashtags in your social media marketing campaigns.
How Not to Use Hashtags
Before getting into the best practices for hashtags, let’s briefly go over some of the most common ways that people misuse hashtags. When you use hashtags in your social media marketing campaign, you definitely should not:
- Overuse hashtags. Remember, less is more. Tweets with just one or two hashtags have 21% more engagement than tweets with three or more.
- Use overly long hashtags. If your hashtag is something long and hard to remember, like #NorthwestSmallBusinessConference2014, people aren’t going to bother using it. Try an abbreviation like #NSMC14.
- Use spaces or punctuation. If you write a hashtag like #we’regoingviral, that apostrophe is going to break the hashtag so that it’s interpreted as #we, which isn’t going to be particularly helpful to your marketing campaign.
Hashtag Best Practices
Okay, now that we’ve covered hashtag abuse, let’s get into the most effective ways that you can use hashtags in marketing.
Use a brand hashtag. A lot of companies simply choose to use their name as their brand hashtag, although some also choose to use a phrase that consumers will associate with them (for example, KitKat uses #HaveABreak). You might consider using a phrase like this if your company name is long, hard to spell, or common enough that it’s already being used as a hashtag. Once you’ve chosen your brand hashtag, use it as your central business tag consistently across social networks.
Use a campaign hashtag. If your company is running a campaign or putting on a live event, build buzz by creating a hashtag for it. The hashtag should simply be the name of the event or the campaign, abbreviated if it’s long. Be sure to promote the hashtag so that people know to use it when they interact with your brand. For example, if you’re doing a raffle, you might require people to use the hashtag #MyLaptopRaffle to be entered into the drawing.
Use trending tags—when appropriate. Both Twitter and Google+ allow you to view trending tags (they’re on the left side of your Twitter feed and under the ‘What’s Hot’ section on Google+). If you notice a tag that’s relevant to your industry is trending, include it in your next post. You should share this post as soon as you notice the trending tag, as trends can change incredibly quickly. This will get you exposure beyond your followers because web users will see your post when they search for that tag. A word to the wise, though: don’t jump on trending tags that have nothing to do with your company or your post. This is a Twitter faux pas and can actually get your Twitter account suspended.
Find out what hashtages are being used by your followers. The goal of hashtags in marketing is to promote yourself to people who may be interested in your products. To do that, you need to find out what hashtags those potential customers are using. In some cases, you may want to post a product hashtag (such as #wickerchair) so that people who are searching for the specific product you’re offering will find you. You may also take the lifestyles of your target demographics into account when coming up with hashtags. For example, if you sell camping gear, it would make sense to use tags like #camping and #backpacking. Be sure that the tags you choose actually make sense in the context of your post and that you’re not just posting generic trends in an attempt to get more views.
Promote your local business with location tags. If you own a small, local business, it makes sense that the social media users you want to attract are the ones who actually live in your area. To get more qualified leads through social media, use geo-targeted tags such as the name of your town or region. If you’re trying to attract customers from a larger geographic area, you can also use tags for nearby towns and cities.
Research tags before using them. It’s quick and easy to search for tags before you use them, and you should absolutely see how other people are using the tag before you adopt it yourself. You need to be sure you understand the context and conversations that surround this tag so that you don’t accidentally connect your business to something negative or controversial.
Hashtags can be an incredibly powerful marketing tool—but they can also be the thing that turns potential customers away when they’re abused. Take the time to research and think carefully about what you post in order to make sure your tags are working for you, not against you.