At the end of our Ames PRAM presentation last month, where I spoke on content marketing, an attendant raised her hand and asked, “How can I use hashtags? What’s the deal with those things anyway? Are they important?”
Her question rang throughout the room with a resounding, “Yes, we’re curious, too.” Heads nodded, pens and pencils hovered to the ready for brilliant note-taking at my response.
What I told her is what I’ll tell you: Hashtags can be a valuable part of your social marketing strategy for your small business — if you use them correctly.
But first, if you’re in the same place as the woman I mentioned above, let’s talk the basics before we jump to best practices.
What is a hashtag?
Look at your keyboard. Find the “3” key, and you’ll see the pound sign just above it. That’s the hashtag, and yes, it did take over the pound sign’s identity.
Hashtag use didn’t actually begin on Twitter, like everyone assumes. People hashtagged on IRC, the Internet Relay Chat in the late 1990s. As it still is used today, hashtagged words and phrases helped to categorize items into groups.
Then in August 2007, hashtags met the masses when Chris Messina, designer, asked his followers how they felt about using the pound key for groups.
Since then, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest and other social media platforms have said, yep — hashtag it.
So while the @ (at) symbol can help you directly tag another user on a social media site, the # (pound or now known as hashtag) symbol categorizes your content and:
- Expands your content reach
- Amplifies your brand
- Targets your market and industry
- Gets your content found
- Improves your SEO
Now that we know a little more about hashtags, we can learn how to use hashtags.
How to use hashtags for your small business.
- Define Your Brand — Much like a tagline tells your audience who you are and what you stand for as a company and brand, a hashtag can do the same. Find a hashtag phrase that’s unique to your business, that defines your business, and that doesn’t just reiterate your brand name (#boring and #ineffective). Remember, you want your target market to want to engage with your hashtag, to either search it, use it or respond to it. Keep that in mind when you’re developing your branded hashtag campaign.
A brand that’s doing it right? Dove. Their #RealBeauty campaign resonates with women who are fed up with touched-up images, unreachable perfection and smoke and mirrors. The Dove #RealBeauty campaign starts a conversation among its audience, and they readily tag their Tweets with #RealBeauty. Now that’s a #RealSuccess.
- Jump on the Trending Bandwagon — On Twitter, you’ll see a constantly updating list at the left column. This is what’s trending online. If there’s ever a hashtag relevant to your business, it’s the time to ignore what your mother said about not doing what everyone else is doing and to hashtag it! If you wait to engage with trending content when it’s relevant to your business, you’ll introduce your brand to a wider, still relevant audience.
Allstate Mayhem jumped on the Super Bowl boat a couple years ago with #SB48 and reminded us of that time the lights went out, and they blamed it on their chaos-generating guy.
- Use specific, relevant hashtags — When you’re about to tag a word or phrase on social media, consider if your audience will ever search these words or phrases or, better yet, use them. I recommend to use the search feature in the social media platforms (which is how others will find you, too). For a wider vision of words specific to your industry, try Tagboard.com.
When you look for relevant hashtags, you can also find relevant users you can interact and engage with, either by answering their Tweets or posts (if you’re somewhere else other than Twitter), and by following their profile.
When we searched #smallbusiness, we found a number of relevant, interesting Tweets, accounts, articles and discussions.
- Keep Hashtags Concise — Really, the shorter, the better usually. If your hashtag looks something like #havingasaletodayonseeds, know that your target audience won’t find you with that tag, nor will they read your message. If your hashtag is on the longer side, but if you come up with results from tip three, then go for it. Otherwise, try to break up your words with relevant tagging strategies.
If you don’t believe me, type in #FF (Follow Friday), and see the visibility that hashtag garners.
- Avoid Using More Hashtags Than Words in a Post — Remember when I said your audience wouldn’t read your hashtag if it was too dang long? Well, your audience won’t read your post if it’s littered with the pound sign either (unless you’re on Instagram, in which it takes about 11 hashtags a post to see momentum). Hashtags should be used only when it could enhance your visibility in a relevant, intended way. Not every post should be talking about everything that’s important to your audience. If you’re writing a valuable post, not all your words will work as hashtags anyway. When in doubt, pick the relevant few words out, and bank the rest of your hashtags at the end of your post if you’re positive that they’ll provide value to the conversation.
Now that you know how to use hashtags, share with us your branded hashtag on Twitter. Use #infusingspirit when you share and tag us @Zao525!