This quick and easy guide to hashtag marketing was inspired by a customer support inquiry (always an easy way to get new ideas for blog content and to supply info your market is looking for). It went a bit like this:
What are hashtags? Can I make them up? How do I use hashtags? Is there a hashtag directory somewhere?
So if you’re a bit unsure about hashtags and how to use them, this post’s for you.
It aims to give you all you need to know for understanding hashtags and using them effectively for your business – and all in under 5 minutes!
Why Use Hashtags?
Here’s three big reasons to start using hashtags to benefit your business through effective marketing:
Build engagement and encourage interaction. Memorable, original hashtags can encourage others to join a conversation. This gives you opportunities to interact with prospects directly and build relationships.
Help your content get found by more people within your target market. In other words, make your business more visible to potential prospects.
Showcase your expertise and authority via a unique hashtag that creates a brand or ‘grouping’ for certain types of update. By simply clicking the hashtag, users can get a repository of related updates you’ve previously shared.
So all in all, it’s kind of important to master hashtag marketing!
Luckily, it’s not all that hard… so let’s get started…
What Are Hashtags?
Hashtags are of course those words or phrases (spaces removed) beginning with the pound or hash symbol (#).
They relate to and invite us to join conversations on social media. They’re now fairly ubiquitous and appear in all sorts of other media.
On clicking the hashtag, you can find other messages using the same hashtag. It’s a way in which otherwise apparently disparate messages can be joined together into a single thread of communication.
As an example of how hashtags work, think about recent major news events.
There are usually hashtags associated with them, and it allows people all over social media to have a say in the same conversation.
The same principle applies when using hashtags for business and marketing purposes.
But hashtags are not restricted to Twitter. While it’s where they first started being used, most social media networks now support them. Here’s a quick list of the main ones:
What about LinkedIn?
As if to spoil the party, LinkedIn don’t support hashtags. In other words, you can’t click them to find related messages – they are treated just like any other word.
That’s a shame, and does mean something is missing from the experience when using LinkedIn.
Unsurprisingly, the result is they are used more rarely on this platform than elsewhere.
You can however still add them to your updates to help indicate the nature of your content and encourage engagement with it.
How To Use Hashtags
How do I create a hashtag?
Hashtags consist of one or more words, with any spaces between words removed, and a # symbol at the beginning.
If using more than one word, you can initial-capitalize the words #LikeThis, but you don’t have to do so. #LikeThis is the same hashtag as #likethis.
Keep your hashtags short. Generally two or three words max within the hashtag. So #ThisIsFarTooLongForAHashtag! But #ThisIsOkay.
Hashtags generally reflect specific topics and clearly identify what the content relates to. It’s best not to make them too generic or vague.
As an example, let’s say your business sells equipment to fly fishing enthusiasts. Using the hashtag #FlyFishing would be preferable to #fishing, in terms of attracting targeted eyeballs for your content and joining a more targeted conversation.
When creating updates directly on the social platform (rather than say using a tool like vWriter), they all behave slightly differently. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the major platforms.
As soon as you enter # and start typing, Facebook gives you a blue background (presumably indicating a link once published) to confirm you are entering a hashtag.
Twitter lists some common, matching hashtags you can select from.
Similarly, Google+ presents a list of popular matching hashtags.
Unlike the networks above, Pinterest does nothing visually when creating a hashtag for a new Pin.
You can place the hashtag anywhere within your message.
It’s good practice on Twitter, mainly because you only have 140 characters to play with, to try to incorporate the hashtag where possible within the text of the Tweet itself:
You can do the same on other networks too, or simply add the hashtag(s) towards the end:
How many can I use?
Use hashtags sparingly, and certainly avoid swamping your message with them. They should add value to, rather than distract from, the content you are sharing in the update.
Generally speaking, use just one or two on Twitter, and up to three on networks where you can create longer posts such as on Facebook and Google+.
Can I just make them up?
Yes. There’s no directory anywhere you should select them from. It’s completely up to you to decide what word or phrase you use for the hashtag.
But decide what your goals are before deciding to use a particular hashtag.
If you’re a small- to medium-sized business, your motivations will be very different from corporations who use hashtags to help build brand identity.
Instead, you’re primarily looking to mainly do one of the following two things:
- Attract your marketplace and join conversations they might be a part of.
- Group certain updates together, e.g. a set of tips relating to your area of expertise. Essentially this creates a new conversation, and followers can view the full set of messages should they wish to.
#1 Use the same hashtag across different platforms
For say a promotional campaign, try using the same hashtag across social media networks to create a single conversation in the mind of the prospect and help build your brand as a business.
Your audience should be clear what the hashtag actually means. Think about the success of #IceBucketChallenge across social media.
On the other hand, #WTFF was used by Burger King to try to promote their French fries, except most people didn’t understand it (not to mention the hashtag was already in use, an acronym for language they might not have wanted to associate themselves with).
By following relevant hashtags yourself, you can:
- Keep abreast of the ‘conversation’ in your marketplace
- Monitor your competition
- Gain inspiration for new content and for new ways to engage
- Highlight other hashtags you could consider using
To follow a particular hashtag on Twitter for example:
- Go to Twitter search in a new browser tab
- Enter in the hashtag (including the ‘#’)
- Click the Live tab to view the most recent Tweets
- Refer back to the results every so often, clicking to view new results as required (see image below).
Here’s an example using a hashtag that was trending at the time of writing, with new Tweets using the hashtag published every few seconds:
You can see the Accounts tab above – this allows you to find Twitter accounts that use a particular hashtag in their profile.
Use this to your advantage by including relevant hashtags in your own profile, and help more potential followers find you.
(Related content: see 5 different ways to build your Twitter followers).
Here’s an example of vWriter’s Twitter profile that does exactly this:
Finally… Cautionary Hashtag
Hashtags can be very useful and beneficial for marketing your business – but just be aware they can do go wrong sometimes.
I’ve already mentioned Burger King above. Here are a couple more cautionary tales – or rather, fails – from #HashtagHistory:
In early 2012, McDonald’s began a new campaign on Twitter using the hashtag #McDStories, and even paid for it to be promoted. However, the hashtag rapidly became a bashtag, hijacked by those who had negative stories about McDonald’s to share.
McD rapidly pulled the campaign, but the damage was done. Worse, usage of the hashtag continued to grow under its own steam.
Years later, it continues to haunt them still:
Lesson: It would have been difficult for McDonald’s to have foreseen this happening, but I guess the general lesson would be to avoid giving detractors ammunition to harm your brand and/or business.
CelebBoutique noticed the hashtag #Aurora was trending.
Seeing as they had a Kim Kardashian-inspired Aurora dress, it would make sense to piggy back on this topic to promote it, right?
Some basic research would have alerted them as to why this particular hashtag was trending, namely a mass shooting of movie watchers in Aurora, Colorado.
Lesson: Simple. Do your research.
Understanding hashtags and how to use them is of course essential for using social media effectively to connect and engage with your marketplace.
To help you as much as possible with this, I’ve created an additional free resource for you. It’s a concise, single-page PDF listing 20 top tips to help you use hashtags effectively, including some important tips there wasn’t room for here. Just click here to download it now (remember, it’s free!).