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Using Hashtags in Your Social Media Strategy

Hashtag symbolHashtags are seen everywhere these days – online, television and print. I bet you use them in your personal social media, but are you taking advantage of them in your business?

Hashtags are used within a message and consist of the # sign plus a word or words. They were originally designed to index information and facilitate topic searches on social media. I love that the first tweeted hashtag involved one of my favorite unconferences, BarCamp. Now, they are used randomly and to express emotions or ideas that would probably best be done directly.

Why are you using hashtags?

Before you start using hashtags, you need to determine your objective. Is it to make your brand more searchable? Is it to monitor chatter about your brand? Is it to launch a new product or service? Is it to promote an event? Is it to promote conversation?

Knowing what you want to achieve will determine how you use hashtags, create brand consistency and provide a clear message to your target audience. Using hashtags haphazardly will waste your resources and may hurt your brand.

Types of hashtags

Brand hashtag

Brand hashtags are hashtags for the company name or tagline. If your company name is common or long, create a unique one. This hashtag is your go-to one because it defines your brand. Use it consistently across platforms, and get people to use it. If short enough, you can combine it with a campaign, event or other hashtags. For example, Verizon is #VZW, but it adds to it (e.g. #VZWBuzz, which is a weekly Twitter chat).

Campaign hashtag

Campaign hashtags are used to promote your latest marketing campaign. Make sure they clearly identify your promotion or contest. Promote this hashtag throughout the duration of your campaign to ensure people know about it and get them to use it.

Trending hashtag

Trending hashtags come and go very quickly so you have to be monitoring social media carefully to capture them. Done well you can take advantage of an event or other subject’s momentum to further your brand. Done wrong you can easily damage your campaign. Generally, only jump on trending hashtags that relate to your company’s products and services in some way. You can also use trending hashtags to show your brand’s personality. Spamming trending hashtags can get your accounts suspended so don’t use #MileyCyrus if she’s not related to the post.

Oreo is famous for its real-time social media. It got a big boost with its Super Bowl tweet “Power out? No problem.” accompanied by an image with the comment “You can still dunk in the dark.” Few companies can replicate Oreo’s success with real-time marketing.

Content hashtag

Many hashtags refer to the content of the message rather than the company itself. Therefore, they tend to be more generic.

  • Product / service hashtag
  • Lifestyle / hobbby hashtag
  • Event hashtag
  • Location hashtag
  • Industry hashtag

Content hashtags help people find information on specific subjects. Do not use too general of a hashtag, like #Facebook, or your message will get lost. Instead, you might use #FacebookTips. Event hashtags are great if you are participating in or hosting an event. Local businesses will want to consider location hashtags.

How to choose hashtags

Remember when I wrote about not using haphazardly? Well, now let’s talk about how to choose hashtags that will be the most effective. The short answer is research. Successful hashtags are unique, relevant, short and easy to remember.

You need to give special consideration to brand and campaign ones. You do not want them to be misinterpreted or hijacked by the public. For example, McDonald’s used #MeetTheFarmers to talk about the corporation’s guarantee of fresh produce and focus on wholesome stories about farmers, but then it used the related secondary hashtag #McDstories. The second hashtag was used by people to discuss fast food horror stories. #Fail.

Research will also help prevent errors such asĀ Entenmann’s #notguilty tweet. Entenmann tweeted “Who’s #notguilty about eating all the tasty treats they want?!” Unfortunately, #notguilty was trending about the controversial not guilty Casey Anthony verdict. Oops! Apology to follow.

So how do you research and create a hashtag list?

Many tools and methods exist to research keywords to use for hashtags and existing hashtag usage. I’ll go over a few here to get you started.Many of the tools focus on Twitter, which dominates hashtag usage, but more companies are adding other social media networks.

If your company is new to social media, you probably do not know which hashtags are popular, but you probably know the influencers in your field. You can use Twitonomy to find out the hashtags used by influencers on Twitter. Remember that just because a hashtag is used by someone does not mean many people search for it. Sign in and enter the person’s Twitter handle to get a list of hashtags. Information is also provided on people they retweet and interact with most often for additional names to research. You can also search by hashtag. After doing this a few times with different accounts, you will have a basic hashtag list. I did one for Gini Dietrich.

Gini Dietrich-Twitonomy hashtags

Because I follow Gini, I know what many of these hashtags mean. But what if you don’t? You can click on the result to see how it is being used and get an idea of its meaning. Also, you can use Hashtag Dictionary and TagDef to find out more. People from around the world add definitions and descriptions for hashtags.

Next, Hashtagify.me will provide other trending hashtags related to your specific one. Enter the hashtag minus the # sign. You will get a graphic result that reminds me of Google+ Ripples. If you hover over one of the circles, more detailed information appears. The larger the circle size, the more popular the hashtag, and the closer it is to your hashtag, the greater the correlation. You can add the related hashtags to your list. Speaking of Google+, as you type your post, Google+ will create related hashtags, and as you type a hashtag, it will auto suggest others.

Here is the result for #contentmarketing:

hashtagifyme-contentmarketing hashtag result

But how popular is that hashtag? With Rite Tag, you can enter the hashtags you’ve collected and find out. Rite Tag uses a color code system. Gray is unused. Pink is overused. Blue is good. Green is great. You can even install a Chrome extension that will provide feedback as you type a tweet. I typed in #contentmarketing, and the result was green. However, #contentmarketingtips was gray. Therefore, I would use #contentmarketing as a content hashtag.

By this time, you may be wondering how to create a unique hashtag for your brand or campaign when so many hashtags have already been created. You don’t have to be completely unique, though that would be ideal. For example, BarCamp Nashville uses #BCN[2-digit year]. This year it was #BCN14. However, the same hashtag configuration is used by an event in Spain. As the events are local and in different languages, they continue to use the same hashtag. You would not want to use a hashtag that is also being used by a competitor or someone who could harm your brand.

Now that you’ve used these tools, you should have a good list of hashtagsto use for content you want to share, a brand hashtag and possible campaign hashtags.

How to use hashtags

Now that you have the why and the what, you need to add the how. One of the frequent questions I get is how many hashtags to use in a post or tweet. Research has found that the fewer the better. Too many hashtags create a spammy feeling. Generally, I advise one or two hashtags with a maximum of three. Although you can go up to 30 on Instagram, more is not necessarily better so please don’t go crazy. On Facebook, I recommend you test whether to use hashtags at all since it hasn’t really taken off there, except with the integration of Instagram.

Where should you place the hashtags? They can be placed in the message itself or at the end. Whichever method you choose, keep readability in mind. For that reason, I capitalize the words in a multiword hashtag.

Using the brand and campaign hashtags across multiple channels, including offline, will create consistency and integrate your messaging. Also, more people will see the hashtag, and seeing it in multiple places will help them remember it.

Remember effectively using hashtags as part of your social media strategy requires that you start with a strategy.Then, you build upon that foundation with a solid list of hashtags that are unique, short and easy to remember and use them properly. The result will be extended audience reach and increased engagement.

About Jennifer Nash

Jennifer Nash is the owner and president of Living Business, a consulting business that focuses on the intersection of strategy, marketing and operations.