Hashtags are simply words or phrases preceded by the hash (#) sign. They originated on Twitter as a way of bringing related content together, but they have gradually acquired a life of their own. You can find hashtags in almost all social media platforms and they sometimes crop up in other places as well.
Why Use Hashtags For Business?
Hashtags indicate the subject of a tweet and give users an easy way of finding content on a particular topic. From a marketing point of view, using appropriate hashtags brings your tweets to the attention of the right audience and allows you to reach out to new people.
If you have different market segments you can also use tags to categorise your tweets (for instance a shoe manufacturer might distinguish between #kidsshoes and #winterboots.)
Using a unique hashtag for your business enables you to track what you have said and what others say about you. This is particularly useful if you are running a specific campaign and want to monitor its success.
You can also use hashtags to search for people and information yourself. You might be looking for people to connect with on Twitter, researching market trends, or just searching for the latest information on any aspect of running a business.
Creating a Hashtag for Your Business
It is very easy to create a hashtag: simply put # before your keyword or phrase, and this creates the tag. But the tag that you use to represent your business is part of your overall branding and it needs some careful thought.
The main criteria are that it should be short, unique and memorable.
- Short is important because Twitter only allows 140 characters per tweet and you want to leave room for you, or your customers, to say something informative.
- You can check whether the tag is unique by typing it into Twitter’s search function; you don’t want tweets about your business jumbled up with lots of unrelated material.
- And, of course, if you want other people to use your tag, then it has to be memorable and related to your business. Note that hashtags can include letters and numbers but not spaces or punctuation, so it would be #ClairesCakes not #Claire’s Cakes.
You may also wish to create specific hashtags for particular events such as #MyBusinessWinterSale. This enables you to evaluate the campaign in isolation from your other marketing. It also allows live tweeting at functions such as shows and conferences, adding a buzz to any occasion!
Turning a Longtail Tag into a Trending Topic
When you start to use your unique hashtag it will be a longtail tag – that is, one which people do not search for very often (the term derives from the long tail of a statistical distribution.) Your aim in selecting other tags is to choose tags which are popular – which means your Tweets will show up when people search for your content. Assuming that your Tweets are engaging and interesting, people will start following your longtail hashtag, and you won’t need to rely on trending topics so much.
Twitter’s front page shows the most popular tags at any given time, but you can get up-to-date lists that are more relevant to you and your business from dedicated sites that specialize in hashtag trends. Just make sure you’re using relevant tags, or you won’t benefit, no matter how popular the hashtag you choose.
Best Practice for Using Hashtags
As with all social media, there are rules to follow.
The first is not to put too many tags in your tweet; most social media managers suggest a maximum of three. Too many tags makes a tweet hard to read and can look spammy. They also limit the space you have to convey your message.
This leads to the second rule: Make sure every tweet is meaningful. Readers expect to receive information in tweets and will soon turn away if you only provide a list of hashtags linked by advertising material.
Finally, consider giving your unique hashtag a boost by encouraging others to use it. If you look at Twitter you will see companies offering incentives (quite often prize draws) for people to use their hashtags or retweet their content. Such measures can be surprisingly effective.
Applications Across Other Social Media
Both Facebook and Google+ allow the use of hashtags, and you can use them to search for related content. It is useful to consider tagging your material in these platforms; in fact, Google+ automatically adds tags to posts although you can include additional tags if you wish. However, users do not seem to use hashtags to search for content on these sites to the same extent that they do with Twitter.
You can also use hashtags on image-based platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram. It is tempting to think that the image is the content here and that you can use lots of tags in the description area (have a look at Instagram and see how many images have a long list of tags below them!)
However, the same rules apply; your users expect to find a description of what it is that you are sharing or offering and they don’t want to have to sift through a lot of tags to find what they are looking for. You also need to remember that Pinterest does not index hashtags in the same way as Twitter does and that using a tag does not necessarily guarantee you will show up in search results.
Hashtags as Part of Social Marketing Strategy
Once you start to include carefully-selected hashtags in your tweets and other posts, and to use them to track your effectiveness, you will find a clearer focus to your social marketing strategy. And, once more people are familiar with your unique tag, you will be able to reach out to a wider audience.