I confess I love hashtags (#). Initially created in 2007 as a way of chatting with, focusing on, and following specific conversations on Twitter, they quickly became widely popular on all the other social networks as well as offline. However, despite their widespread cultural usage, there is still confusion about when to use them for business, as well as promotions and events and to increase leverage and awareness i.e. how you actually use hashtags like a pro!
How to Use Hashtags like a PRO
Millions of people use hashtags every day to search for content or people, and they are so useful that they are now even usable on uber dry and serious Linkedin, as well as being a way of searching Instagram stories (as well as location). Using them selectively will help you take part in discussions as well as be found.
Hashtags can range from general discussion topics (#defence #food #smmarketing), through the serious (#socialgood #edtech #bbcqt), to popular programmes/celebrities (#gameofthronesK #arianagrande), as well as events (#GE2017), happenings (#nomakeupselfie) and advice (#Norfolkwinter). They can encompass the full spectrum of human existence, from disasters and tragedies (#Aurora #prayforJapan #Manchester) right over to the downright frivolous (#EveryoneHasThat1Friend).
There are also dedicated hashtag shout outs on Twitter, Instagram, etc that are tied to a day of the week, all of which can and do get used and hijacked by brands and marketing people who want to flag up their products and businesses. Popular ones include:
#MondayBlues #ManicMonday #MilitaryMonday #MusicMonday
#CharityTuesday #TravelTuesday #TransformationTuesday
#WineWednesday #WellnessWednesday #WednesdayWisdom
#ThrowbackThursday (massive on Instagram)
#FollowFriday (initially shortened to #FF although that can get uber confusing now there are so many Friday shout outs!) #FoodFriday #FlowerFriday (especially on G+) and #FridayReads
Hashtag Business Uses
• Research – as a way of finding areas/topics of interest. This can then be shared to a Twitter list to keep, shared on other networks such as Storify, or archived to create a reference database.
• Visibility – as a way to flag up their tweets so people with similar interests can connect with them and respond or share. Also a great way to promote an event and for people to share information about the event on social media.
• Conversation – Tweet chats are a great way of hosting, joining or following conversations online in your area of interest. To find chats you can pop in #tweetchatshappeningnow direct in on Twitter or go to www.tweetchat.com for more information. Scheduled tweet chats are also shared here on Tweetchat Schedule.
So for example, #brandchat is a Tweetchat with a set time (Wednesdays 8-9pm), but can also be a research tool – what are people talking about, who is using it? – and a flag outside of the Tweetchat times – “I think this is interesting to the #brandchat community”.
Twitter has also adapted the hashtag style to make company ticker symbols preceded by the dollar sign clickable (for example $AAPL), a tag that Twitter has dubbed the “cashtag” and which is intended to allow people to search for tweets discussing companies and their stocks.
Hashtags for Brands
Organisations can find hashtags particularly useful when they are used as discussion forums around a particular subject, for raising awareness, or finding out information (see #brandchat and the cashtag, above).
When you are using hashtags to promote an event or raise awareness, concentrating on one main hashtag for an event or discussion is always more successful than using many hashtags, else you risk spreading the sentiment and discussion too thinly. When one of our clients rebranded in 2012 we set up #raisetheflags to raise awareness for them, and this also became a rallying point and Twitter flag for sharing information about the events surrounding the rebrand and the rebrand itself, with over 5,000 shares online.
While organisations can launch and try and drive hashtag usage, as with so much of social media they are driven by consumers, so brands should also be aware that hashtags can sometimes backfire – in 2012 for example, MacDonald’s launched a hashtag called #McDStories, hoping it would lead to lots of nice tweets about people enjoying their food and the experience.
However, it immediately got swamped with customers complaining and being ironical, as well expressing their disgust with the McDonald’s dining experience. McDonald’s stopped the campaign within two hours, saying the experience “did not go as planned”, but by then the hashtag had taken on a (negative) life of its own, becoming the first recognised #bashtag.
Interestingly, it was already clear that McDonald’s was not a very popular brand in some areas, so it is likely that the whole fiasco could have been avoided if the McDonald’s marketing team had taken the time to listen to what was being said online before pressing forward with such a hijackable hashtag!
Consequently, it is best to be very careful when choosing brand-connected hashtags and ensure you have carefully listen to the conversations that consumers are having around your brand before you take that quantum leap.
Using Hashtags for Events
Hashtags can be used for sharing live information during online events known as a Tweetups, in addition to forming the structure of hashtag chats. However, perhaps THE most useful usage for organisations wanting to promote online is the use of hashtags for events.
There’s a few rules to remember when creating a hashtag to support an event, whether that is a seminar, a rebrand, festival or whatever.
• Agree on ONE hashtag, and stick to it across all platforms, whether online or offline
• Ensure that the hashtag is robust (ie as unlikely as possible to be brandjacked), short and memorable
• Register it
• Set up a hashtag feed on your website to capture the posts
• Publicise it widely beforehand, as well as during the event
• Have it on EVERYTHING, online and offline
• Use a CTA to drive engagement and encourage people to use it
• Use the information to understand and connect with your audience, drive follow up reports, and shape the next event (if appropriate) and your marketing.
Using hashtags can increase engagement with posts by 20% more than tweets without hashtags achieve, so hopefully you will feel more empowered to use the Mighty Hashtag to the advantage of your business.
If you are still in need of some help and guidance about using hashtags for business, or indeed using Twitter, Instagram or any of the other networks for marketing and sales, then we have many different social packages available to be tailored to you.