I still have clients come to me every week wondering what hashtags are, and doubting their effectiveness. In a nutshell, Hashtags are the difference between shouting important information in a crowded street, and sharing it with groups of people who have expressed an interest in the topic. Which method do you think is more effective?
Hashtags can look like a lot to wrap you head around, especially when you see complex ones like #ihatewhenmyhairsticksupattheback. Don’t worry though, they’re actually very simple, and there’s really no need to go in for the long, complex ones unless you’re trying to make a point. Here are some simple guidelines for using hashtags.
Use hashtags like you would use labels in a binder
Imagine you were to print out all your posts and organize them into a binder. You’d probably categorize them so you could find them later, right? So if you had a post about a new restaurant you loved you might categorize it under “Restaurants” or “Eating Out” or just “Food.” You can think about hashtags in much the same way.
How does it work? People will often search social media sites to discover information they’re interested in. If they search “Restaurant”, and you’ve hash-tagged your post #restaurant, your post will show up in their search results. Keep in mind the pace of social media here, your tweet will only show for a short time before it becomes buried in an avalanche of other posts, this is particularly the case with Twitter.
Use hashtags to get discovered
Aside from gaining exposure through searches on social media sites, Google now displays tweets related to a users’ search in their mobile app. This means that if somebody is using the Google app to search “Restaurant’ and you recently tweeted using #restaurant, your tweet could show up and get some welcome exposure. For more information about Twitter results in Google search, check out this CNet Article. A desktop version of this feature is due to arrive soon.
Use hashtags to add additional information to your post
Another way you can use hashtags is to add additional information to your post that otherwise wouldn’t fit, or to express disconnected thoughts. Here are some examples:
In this post, my first hashtags marks the category “Happiness.” The second two express disconnected ideas. It would take a lot more than 140 characters to write a full expression of my thoughts in this post, so instead I condense them into two simple hashtags: #MakeItYours and #DoWhatMakesYouHappy.
Note – While it’s not necessary to capitalise the first letter of each word, it helps a lot with readability. Remember, you cannot use spaces or punctuation in a hashtag with the exception of an underscore, which is not often evoked.
Here’s another example of hashtags in action:
Use hashtags to join a conversation
TV shows, brands, political/social campaigns etc. will often create their own hashtags so social media users can tap into the conversation surrounding them. If you’re reading about something relevant to your business, and notice that they’ve created a hashtag to use while talking about it, USE it! It will help ensure your post reaches an interested audience.
Top trending hashtags appear in the sidebar of Twitter. If something is trending that is truly relevant to you, hop on board. It’s important to only do this when the trending hashtag really is relevant to you. Otherwise you could come off as opportunistic and insincere.
Use branded hashtags
Speaking of brands creating hashtags, you can create your own! Creating your own hashtag can strengthen your branding and offer your customers an additional way to interact with you. You can create hashtags around your business name, or around a value or purpose you have. You can also create hashtags to promote a particular marketing campaign.
For example, if you run a small fancy shoe store called The Glass Slipper, and want to run a photo contest of people wearing your shoes, you could create a hashtag like #OutAfterMidnight that users would use when submitting entries on social media.
Let Twitter help you find hashtags
Let’s say you’re all ready and set to use hashtags, but you’re having trouble thinking of some. Maybe you want to use some that are a little more interesting that just naming your basic Tweet categories, or want to find something more popular. There are whole websites out there dedicated to helping you find the best and most popular hashtags, but you ain’t got time for that, you’re running a business over here and Tweeting is only supposed to take a few seconds, right? Right! You’ll be happy to know you can have Twitter help you find a popular hashtag. Simply open your tweet box, start typing your hashtag, and pause for a second to let Twitter do some thinking. It will come up with hashtag suggestions for you. Returning to our earlier example of tweeting about a new restaurant, here’s what happened when I let Twitter help me with my Food hashtag:
Ok, so the first and last hashtags aren’t relevant to what I’m talking about, but check out the 3rd one, #Foodie. That seems very apt, and it only took you two seconds to find it. Perfect.
Notice which hashtags others are using
When you’re on your Twitter, Facebook, Google+ etc. home feed, don’t forget to cast an eye over which hashtags others are using. If you see the same one pop up time and time again, chances are it’s a popular one. Say you’ve noticed that whenever other people talk about food they use #nomnomnom. Add that to the hashtags for your tweet!
Don’t overuse them
Apart from Instagram (Anything goes over there!), it’s best to keep your hashtags to 3 at most. Having any more than that clutters up your post and makes it hard to read.
That’s all folks! Hashtags have become such an integral part of online marketing that I could fill a book with information about them, but you’re a busy person with a life, so I’ll leave you with the above guidelines and wish you luck! Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Compliments? (I especially like those) Please use the comment form below.