The Humble Hashtag
Developed over 6 years ago, the hashtag has become ubiquitous when it comes to social media; it began life in Internet Relay Chat and was first used on Twitter as a way to group topics of interest in 2007, and the term itself was coined not long after. Hashtagging is now widely used across multiple social media platforms, from Twitter to Facebook and Instagram. The hashtag has even popped up on adverts and in popular culture. The popularity of the hashtag is not difficult to explain; it’s one of the easier ways to get involved with social media.
Including a hashtag in a Tweet or social media post is great to instantly connect to a wider conversation; hashtag searches find every mention of a particular hashtag, so people who are discussing a topic can find others who are doing the same. Twitter also collates the more popular hashtags as a list of trending topics. This means you can tap into real time conversations, which can result in valuable exposure.
So how can you use hashtags to improve your brand presence on social media? Just remember these 5 simple tips:
1) Join conversations you can add value to
Hashtags can be used to present yourself as an Influencer, or an expert on a subject. For example, if you are a PR professional, interacting with hashtags such as #PRChat or #marketing provide opportunities to comment on issues that are being discussed in your industry. If you have something worthwhile to say, you’ll receive more followers and further exposure for your company or brand.
Get involved by tweeting your opinions about magazine articles or news that addresses current events in your field of work, making sure to include the Twitter handle of the author and some hashtags about the key points. This will prompt a discussion and you can show an authority on the subject whilst keeping up to date with what’s going on in your industry.
2) Don’t hijack unrelated trending hashtags
But using popular hashtags can be fraught with danger; companies have displayed very poor judgement by hijacking existing hashtags in an attempt to promote themselves. An infamous example occurred last summer, when UK clothing company Celeb Boutique tweeted “#Aurora is trending, clearly about our KimK inspired #Aurora dress ;)…” alongside a link to the online store, without realising that #Aurora was actually trending because of the mass shooting that occurred in Aurora, Colorado in America. They apologised profusely for seeming insensitive and stated their ignorance of the situation, but as information on social media is so easily accessible, this kind of faux pas is not really acceptable.
Do your research, and don’t pick trending hashtags at random to promote your products; consumers will not look kindly on this and you could severely damage your reputation online.
3) Create short, memorable and relevant hashtags
Creating hashtags can be a great way to get people talking about your brand. The hashtag could simply be your company name, or be based on an event or a product you’re promoting. Be creative and fun, and use snappy words that are easy to remember and won’t eat too many of your 140 characters. Starbucks introduced the #TreatReceipt campaign this summer, involving discounts on beverages by presenting a Starbucks receipt from earlier in the day. They teamed this with #heatwave to promote their iced frappuccinos to great success.
You can also use less formal hashtags to reveal your brand personality. Does your office have a Casual Friday policy? Tweet about it with a relevant hashtag. This will show potential customers that your business has a human side, and may well encourage job seekers, who increasingly turn to social media such as Twitter and LinkedIn to find career opportunities, to get in touch as a result of seeing evidence of a pleasant working environment.
4) Prepare for customer interaction
Social media opens up a dialogue between companies and consumers; it creates a horizontal conversation. This, of course, can result in good and bad interactions from the people you’re targeting. Food giants McDonalds started a notorious social media marketing campaign centred around #McDStories, but found that it soon spiralled out of control, as customers tweeted about lack of food sanitation or political and environmental objections to the company’s policies using the very same hashtag McDonald’s had deployed for positive interaction.
Campaigns that invite interaction from consumers work best if the activity is well thought out and interesting. For example, Nike had such success with the #MakeItCount campaign in 2012 that they repeated it in 2013. Consumers were asked to tweet resolutions and ideas to make the year count to encourage themselves, and others, to get fit. Similarly, marker pen creators Sharpie asked social media users to get creative with their Sharpies and share the pictures online, accompanied with the simple but effective #Sharpie. Sharing creativity is one of the huge strengths of social media, so lots of people got involved, and the hashtag spread. These campaigns were routed in strong, shareable and interactive ideas that people genuinely wanted to get involved with.
5) Don’t get carried away!
By now you’ve most likely got the hang of using hashtags in social media. But don’t get overexcited and add as many hashtags you can think of every time you tweet or post. Stick to the rule of three; including a maximum of three hashtags is enough to get your tweet noticed without being annoying or overwhelming for your followers. Sometimes one is enough. Including too many hashtags reduces the amount of actual content in your posts, and it’s the quality content that will make you stand out in the sea of social media users.