If you’re not using hashtags in your social media strategy, you’re #missingout. Hashtags are a word or group of words preceded by a # symbol. This online phenomenon was first introduced on live-chat and messaging precursors to social sites called Internet Chat Relays (ICRs). They were later popularized on Twitter where they were used for “tweet chats,” which are open discussions around a particular subject. The hashtag was eventually adopted by almost every major social media platform, including Facebook and Instagram and every platform appeals to a different audience who use it differently.
Over the years, hashtags have evolved from a simple online taxonomy into a language all their own and, if used correctly, can be a very powerful tool for marketers. Tweets with hashtags get twice as much engagement as those without them and 55% more retweets. Furthermore, 75% of people on social media use hashtags. In 2015, Google started to include Tweets in its search results, meaning hashtags could even help with your SEO.
If you are planning on incorporating hashtags into your social media strategy (and you should), here are a few things you should consider:
Brand & Campaign Hashtags: Be Unique
Hashtag campaigns can be a powerful strategy. When crafting a hashtag for your brand, it is always good to be unique to your specific campaign. The hashtag can include the brand name, such as Coca-Cola’s #ShareACoke which ran in tandem with the company’s launch of personalized labels for bottles. This campaign generated hundreds of thousands of Tweets. This hashtag was successful because it was unique to the campaign. The campaign’s success would not have been possible had they simply used a generic branded hashtag like #CocaCola. Furthermore, the hashtag was visible amongst many different promotional outlets such as print ads, television commercials, and printed on the bottles themselves.
Hashtags don’t necessarily need to include the brand’s name to be successful. For example, Charmin’s #TweetFromTheSeat campaign asks users to tweet their thoughts and stories from “the seat”. This campaign fostered a hilarious dialogue and gave an unalluring product, toilet paper, a strong social media presence. The hashtag works because it’s humorous, interactive and establishes a strong voice and tone for the brand.
Content Hashtags: Be Specific, But Not Too Specific
Of course, hashtags don’t need to necessarily center around a particular campaign. Companies can use content hashtags, words or groups of words associated with their product or service offerings to reach a certain audience searching for that particular hashtag. When choosing your hashtags, be specific but not too specific. For example, if you are an online clothing retailer, hashtags like #clothes #dress and #shoes are very broad and unlikely to be very visible in the social sphere. By the same token, hashtags like #turquoisesilkcharmeusehalterdress #burgundypatentleatherpumps and #yellowandpurplestripedtop are far too niche and even difficult to decipher. You don’t want to be the only person using a particular hashtag.
#Trending Hashtags: Use Caution
Just because a hashtag is trending on Twitter does not mean you should necessarily jump on the bandwagon before understanding the meaning behind the hashtag. One of the most cringe-worthy examples of a brand misappropriating a trending hashtag was in July 2011 when Entenmann asked its users “Who’s #notguilty about eating all the tasty treats they want?!”. This trending #notguilty hashtag was coming off of the controversial Casey Anthony acquittal and users did not appreciate the lighthearted tweet in the wake of the serious trial. Entenmann later apologized, claiming ignorance.
Understand Public Sentiment
Some of the most noteworthy #fails by big brands were those who did not understand the public sentiment surrounding them. For example, JP Morgan used the hashtag #AskJPM to give young econ enthusiasts the opportunity to have their questions answered by a higher-level executive. This hashtag came only months after the bank received a $13 billion government settlement after knowingly selling faulty mortgages leading up to a national housing crisis. Needless to say, the hashtag blew up on Twitter for all the wrong reasons and with questions from everyone except their target audience.
These types of open-ended calls-to-action need to be considered carefully, especially when you suffer from an image problem. Other examples of this type of hashtag gone awry include McDonalds’ #McDStories campaign, which found users sharing their overwhelmingly negative experiences at the fast-food chain and #AskSeaWorld, which gave animal rights activists a platform to skewer the controversial marine theme park over their animal care practices.
Be Succinct & Limit Your Hashtag Use
As a rule of thumb, #yourhashtagshouldnotincludemorethanfourwords. If you struggled to read that then you already understand how important it is to limit your hashtag to just a few concise words. A short, succinct hashtag is catchier and easier on the eyes. Also, it is important that you #not #hashtag #every #word. This appears unprofessional and can be very annoying to read. Remember, hashtags are meant to enhance your social media message. They are not meant to consume it.
You don’t have to be an expert in social media or marketing to recognize the impact of hashtags. Incorporating good hashtag practices into your campaign strategy can help you become more discoverable, reach your intended audience, and facilitate a deeper level of engagement with them.