Hashtags (#hashtags) are an important part of how people communicate online. They are also a critical part of online marketing, as they allow you to organize content and track discussions across social media based on the hashtag or keywords.
The hashtag first beginning with Twitter in 2007 as a way to group tweets. it has since spread to other social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Tumblr, and Pinterest.
You cannot use spaces in hashtags so even when your hashtag contains more than one word, group them all together. If you want to make it easier to read, you can capitalize the first letter in each word. Using uppercase letters will not change the search results. you can also use numbers, but you should not use any kind of punctuation mark or special character.
The beauty of hashtags is there’s no preset list. You can create a brand new hashtag simply by putting the hash symbol before a series of words. If it’s never been used before, you’ve invented a hashtag.
If you’re looking to capitalize on hashtags for your online marketing, it’s not as simple as jumping right in with the hashtags you think will be the best fit for your brand. For a hashtag to be an effective enhancement to your brand, you must consider how your target audience currently uses them, the potential abuse of any branded hashtag you may create, and more. It may seem tempting to just jump on the trending hashtag train every time you see one, but this action can do some damage to your brand.
Research Hashtags Before You Use Them
I’ve mentioned it here on the blog before – the story of DiGiorno Pizza jumping in on the trending #WhyIStayed hashtag before they researched it. Long story short, the hashtag was a response to domestic abuse surrounding Ray Rice and his wife. Instead of researching the hashtag, the brand jumped on the bandwagon with a “#WhyIStayed You had pizza” tweet that was in poor taste. Of course the brand deleted the tweet and issued a swift apology, but had they taken the time to research the hashtag first, they could have avoided the entire thing.
Take a look at these tools to help you research hashtags before you consider working them into your social strategy.
- HashAtIt: This is a hashtag search engine so you can see the way the hashtags are used across multiple social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.
- Hashtagify: This free tool lets you explore Twitter hashtags, but one thing that makes it unique is it also visualizes the relationships between hashtags. The analysis based on a 1% sampling of all tweets, since this is the max that Twitter will give for free.
- org: This will provide information about how individuals and brands across the globe can improve their social media branding.
- RiteTag: This tool helps you find the best tags to go alongside the content you’re sharing. It works with Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, and YouTube to name a few.
- TagDef: This is a big one to help you avoid the DiGiorno fiasco, because it helps you see what hashtags mean and find related hashtags. Plus, if you’ve invented a hashtag for your brand, you can add your own definitions, too.
Types of Hashtags
You can break hashtags down into five basic categories.
- Related Hashtags: Finding hashtags related to the ones you’re already using helps you get insight into current trends and related concepts. An important thing to consider is when it comes to using hashtags on Google+, they are reflective of what’s trending right now, so that’s a good way to find topics that will resonate with your audience. It helps you find concepts to base your new content on, and can be useful in finding niche slang. You can use this approach when you’re planning content for a week or two ahead of time. Otherwise, stick to Hashtagify.
- Local Hashtags: These hashtags are harder to find with a tool, so you’ll have to rely on your own knowledge and Google Maps. These hashtags rose to popularity thanks to Instagram, but have since become popular on Facebook and Twitter as well. You can look for neighborhood and city names, sights, restaurants, shops, and community names. It’s also a good idea to look though local and hyper local web directories to get more ideas. You can turn the local topics into hashtags you can then search on Twitter and Facebook. Pay attention to the hashtags that give you the best results so you can keep using them. Put the best ones in Google+ to find related trends and concepts.
- Event Hashtags: No matter what industry you’re in, you can find a variety of annual events. Hashtags are a great way to build relationships with attendees, speakers, and sponsors you believe would fit your ideal customer profile. And, if you cannot attend the event for whatever reason, you can use the hashtag to follow along during the event.
- Holiday Hashtags: You can always work a holiday theme into your industry, and using holiday hashtags can help spread the content a bit further. For instance, you can do something like “Our X New Year’s Resolutions for 20XX #HappyNewYear20XX #NewYearsResolution” or “X Things We Want for [Holiday] #[holidayhashtag]” Going beyond the nationally recognized holidays, you could always look into unofficial holidays related to your niche, like National Chocolate Day, or National Left Hander’s Day.
- Brand Hashtags: Brand hashtags are often used when people tweet about the brand’s customer service, products and services, or causes or events they support. Running brand hashtags through related tools can help you find other keywords people are using in the niche, so you can capitalize on the traffic they bring.
Create a Branded Hashtag
When you want to create a branded hashtag, keep your brand’s identity at the forefront of your brainstorming activity. If you want it to take off, you must remain authentic and true to your brand. One of my favorite examples of branded hashtags is Charmin. Toilet paper is something everyone needs, but doesn’t necessarily like to talk about. But, they’ve done a great job with a few different branded hashtags, such as: #tweetfromtheseat, #charmin, #enjoythego.
You should create a branded hashtag that ties into your marketing activities without having to force it. Keep it short, but unique – the longer they are, the less likely they are to be remembered, and the harder they will be to use within Twitter’s character limits.
Make it clever or funny. That’s what has worked so well for Charmin, but a word of caution. Check it for possible double meanings that trolls could have fun with. #NowThatchersDead was a trending hashtag a while back when Marget Thatcher passed away. Needless to say, others changed it to #NowThatChersDead, which created a storm of rumors that Cher had passed away. If there’s room to change it or make fun of it, you can bet people will do it. Look for hidden words and phrases within the phrase as you intended.
Encourage your followers to use the hashtags when they’re on social media, and you can use them as another way to track buzz about your brand. Check and see if there are any hashtags you see your followers repeatedly using to describe your products, and then use those. Before Chobani ever ventured onto Instagram, they noticed followers were using #chobani and #creationaday, so they just joined the conversation. You can do the same if you notice a trend.
Take a Look at Trending Hashtags
Like I’ve already mentioned with Digornio, it’s a bad idea to jump on a trending hashtag just because you want to get some juice for your brand. But, there’s another reason to look at what’s trending. You don’t want something to be too close to your hashtag – because it could be typo’d and end up creating some negative press for your brand.
You also don’t want to use something that’s too general like #notguilty. Entenmann’s decided to use that hashtag to promote their low-calorie product options, which turned out to be a bad idea. That hashtag was trending because of the Casey Anthony verdict.
But, if there’s a trending hashtag that fits with your brand, and doesn’t have a negative connotation, jump on it.
Use Hashtags on Multiple Social Platforms
To create cohesiveness, and to ensure the hashtag gets wider reach, use the hashtags you choose or create across social platforms. You may have some customers who don’t use Twitter, but are constantly on Instagram or Pinterest. You may have customers on Facebook and Twitter, but not on Instagram. Track the hashtag on all the platforms you use it on and see which ones are doing the best and where.
Don’t Overdo Hashtags
Pick one or two hashtags that make the most sense for your content. If your post is nothing but hashtags, it’s hard to actually communicate something to your followers. Plus, it gives them the impression that you’re spamming them. Nobody likes spam.
#Hashtags Enhance Your Brand When Used Correctly
When used the right way, you can expand your reach, engage your customers, and track social media chatter. But just like anything else in your online marketing campaigns, you should take your time and research. If you jump on a trend without researching, you could easily damage your brand. If you create the wrong hashtag and trolls go rogue, that too, creates a mess.
What are your favorite hashtags? Why? How have hashtags helped (or hurt) your brand? Tell me in the comments below.