You’ve probably spotted them popping up in online conversations everywhere. They’ve even started to infiltrate their way into offline media, including billboards, packaging and branding. And it’s now not uncommon to hear them facetiously dropped into casual speech. Yes, the humble hashtag has quickly risen from simply being a neglected telephone key to carrying a weight of semantic responsibility.
So what purpose do they serve? Here is a brief Hashtag 101 for you social media newbies, as well as 10 hashtag strategies you can use to start promoting your small business online.
What is a #hashtag?
Hashtags are the # sign placed at the start of a word or phrase. Why do they matter?
At first glance it might appear like an inconsequential appendage. However, for those hoping to increase the presence of their small business on social media, using hashtags strategically is a powerful way to do it.
In the world of social media, hashtags indicate keywords related to your content. They become clickable links which allow you to increase your brand visibility, become a part of a wider audience, join or create dialogue, promote your content or keep up with trending topics.
The hashtag groups topics and makes it easier for users to find others who are discussing the same thing online. Social media platforms that currently support this are Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Tumblr and Pinterest.
Here’s some things to keep in mind about using hashtags to help your target audience discover you:
Keep it simple. Too many hashtags make your post difficult to read so they are automatically less engaging and, to be honest, make you look a little needy, not to mention spammy. #HashtagAbuse won’t win you any friends. Only use 1-2 hashtags per tweet.
Use hashtagify.me to discover trending hashtags related to certain topics. For example, if you work in the field of civil engineering, you can enter this term to discover the top related tags, which would look something like this:
Long hashtags are not search-friendly and are difficult to reuse. On top of this, #longhashtagsareimpossibletoread. Only tag the most important word or phrase that is appropriate to your topic.
It has become somewhat of a trend to use satirically long hashtags on personal social media posts, mainly for the entertainment factor, but this approach doesn’t work when your aim is to actually promote your business and be discoverable. If you need to string a few words together, consider using a mix of capitals and lowercase to make it easier to read.
If you’re attending an event or industry conference, it’s likely there is an official event hashtag that you can use to grow your reach by connecting with customers, associates and interested audiences. Organisers or presenters will normally give you a heads-up as to what this is. Even if you can’t make it to the event, you can use the hashtag to follow and participate in discussions that are relevant to your industry.
For example, when Xero hold their Xerocon event, everyone attending the event, and everyone who wanted to follow updates, simply need to use #xerocon to see posts on Twitter from other attendees or speakers.
Likewise if you have an upcoming event or presentation, a hashtag is a great way to start conversation and generate interest prior to the event.
You don’t have to create your own hashtags to initiate a conversation. Jump onboard existing hashtags to drive visibility of your brand and also increase the chances of getting your content shared by others. So, say if you’re promoting your blog with advice for small businesses, popular tags that will help your audience find you include, #smallbiz, #entrepreneur, #startup and #SME.
If you’re new to the social media game, you’re probably not really sure about what makes an effective hashtag. However, it’s likely that you do have an idea about the best industry thought leaders or influential brands to follow. So keep an eye on their accounts and identify the types of topics they discuss and the hashtags they use to generate traction for their content, and use ones applicable to your own business.
Create a hashtag that you consistently use on social media to represent your business or a specific product or marketing campaign. Many companies have had success using this approach by creating hashtags that extend beyond social media and become a slogan for their entire campaign and used throughout other forms of marketing copy.
The best way to do this is to not make it completely obvious that it’s a marketing initiative. People are hesitant to reuse a brand name or company slogan but are more inclined to participate if you use creative catch phrases.
Toilet paper company, Charmin, decided to take advantage of the surprisingly high number of people who use social media in the bathroom. #tweetfromtheseat is attached to every post, and is a playful and entertaining way to get their business noticed, with plenty of people jumping onboard to share their #tweetfromtheseat.
Keep up with popular Twitter trends and relate them back to content relevant to your own business. For example, use #throwbackthursday to link back to an older (but still topical) blog post or perhaps to a case study for a past client.
Twitter gives you an indication of current trending topics on the left hand side of your home page. You can tailor these based on your location or the people you follow (by clicking on the ‘Change’ button). Capitalise on these if you can incorporate them in a relevant (and non-controversial) way.
Be careful that your campaign doesn’t go viral for all the wrong reasons. You may already be familiar with the faux pas that Susan Boyle’s PR team made in promoting her album party. #susanalbumparty quickly became a sensation and went viral for obvious reasons, even though the original tweet was swiftly deleted.
Check up on what’s trending too - you don’t want to inadvertently get caught up in an unfavourable hashtag where your message could be misinterpreted, or simply lost among the conversation.
Give customers an incentive for using your hashtag through competitions or content shares on your own page. Create a hashtag for a specific challenge or contest and encourage users to participate in order to be in to win a prize or complimentary services.
Once you’ve gone to all this effort to create hashtags, how do you know they’re actually working? Depending on the platform you are using for your social media marketing, there are various tools you can use to track your hashtag performance, such as these free Twitter analytics tools, so you can keep across what’s working and what’s not.
Do you have any other tips for using hashtags effectively? Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and give us a tweet - let us know how you are getting on using hashtags on social media. And make sure you use #WorkflowMax so we can all find you!