Tips for Using Hashtags

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hashtags explainedSocial media has a vocabulary of its own. The (#) symbol, which most of us have called a number or pound sign for years, is referred to as a hashtag on social media.  It seems that everywhere I have been this year, I have gotten questions on hashtags and how to use them properly. This blog post includes information on the history of the hashtag and tips for using hashtags effectively in social media programs.

The hashtag started being utilized way back in 2007 as a method for categorizing tweets by subject matter on Twitter. There wasn’t an easy way to search the site, so Twitter users created this informal work-around to make it easy to search specific subjects and track trends. Users would simply include hashtags in their tweets and other users could search hashtags to find people tweeting about that particular subject, event or trend.  Today, Twitter is easily searched without the use of the hashtag, but many people still use it to organize content on Twitter and other sites.

The impact the hashtag has had on our language and culture is so profound that the American Dialect Society declared “hashtag” the Word of the Year in 2012. And talk about stiff competition, it beat “Gangnam Style,” “fiscal cliff,” and one of my favorites, “YOLO.” And beyond search, the hashtag has evolved to convey context, irony or sarcasm; suggest emotion; provide an answer to a question and much more. It is important to understand that as social media continues to evolve, so does the use of the hashtag.

How does it work? To properly use a hashtag, place the hash character in front of the word or phrase that you wish to emphasize. For instance, to find tweets about the International Builders Show in Las Vegas, search #IBSVegas. Hashtags only work when all the spaces are removed; this is why both upper and lower case letters are used within a single hashtag.

Hashtags are now used across multiple platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Google+ — just to name a few. Once you hashtag a word in a post, if the social media account where the hashtag was used is open to the public, anyone can search your hashtag and find your content.

If you are going to market your business via social media, then you need to become fluent with the platforms, as well as the language

Best practices? There are some basic dos and don’ts for using hashtags. As a general rule, it is okay to tag or include one to three hashtags per tweet or per post. Of course, hashtags, like so many other things in social media, are site specific. On Twitter and Instagram, it is acceptable and even expected that every post will have a hashtag, or two, or three or 10.  However, they start to look spammy if used in excess on Facebook, Pinterest or Google+. And, don’t forget, people need to be able to read your content and see and act on your call to action (clicking on that link to your website) without being completely distracted.  Make sure to use hashtags to enhance content versus distract from your message. Find the key words in your tweets that have potential to go viral and to help you brand and hashtag away.

Here are some ideas on how you can put hashtags to work in the social media program for your business.

Find & Follow People – Want to find people visiting #Vegas or #Atlanta, or simply want to reach all the #Realtors in a specific area? Hashtags are used to categorize tweets.  This makes it easy to identify like-minded people and conversations. And, this means that you can promote your business to the right people.

Trending Topics – Visit any page on the native version of Twitter to see hashtags that are trending at that moment.  Incorporating these popular hashtags into your posts can boost that post’s reach.

Create a Custom Hashtag – When promoting a contest, the creation of a custom hashtag can help to see all the people commenting or promoting the event.  For this year’s #GR8 Relevant Marketing webinar series, the hashtag #GR8mRELWebinars is being used to promote it.  If you search #GR8, you will quickly see why we added more customization to it. Always search the hashtag you plan to use before announcing it or using it in promotional materials – you may be surprised how it is used.  And, always get a few different people to look at the hashtag to make sure it doesn’t say anything that you have not noticed.

Contests & Promotions – Hosting a contest or promotion on multiple social media sites? The use of a custom hashtag can help ensure that you see all of the contest entries. For instance, Atlanta home builder Traton Homes and mRELEVANCE recently launched a Pinterest promotion, “Pinteract with Traton Homes’ to introduce their new decorated model homes at The Reserve at Old Atlanta and Vinings Parc East. Those wishing to participate in the contest design a board on Pinterest showing how they’d decorate the model home of their dreams and use the hashtag #TratonHomesPinteractContest to enter. mRELEVANCE can simply search this hashtag on Pinterest to see all of the contest entries.  The hashtag can be searched on Google and other sites to see who is talking about the contest. Hashtags are particularly good for cross-platform social media promotions or contests.

Public Opinions & Events – Want to share your opinion on a popular TV show, the Grammys or American Idol? Lots of people are on social media while world news is happening.  Search for your favorite show or a current event to see recent results.

Customer Service – Unhappy customers have taken to the internet to get solutions. Want to see customer engagement in real time? Just search any airline or high speed internet providers name followed by sucks. Businesses need to monitor a wide variety of hashtags that could potentially be used by unhappy customers.

Hashtags are everywhere, now that you have a basic understanding of them figure out ways to incorporate them into your social media program. There are lots of apps and sites that you can use to enhance your use of hashtags. One site that we like is https://www.hashtags.org/. This site tracks hashtags. Enter a hashtag in the site to see how that hashtag has trended over 24 hours.

For more information on creating an integrated marketing program that drives leads and increases sales, contact mRELEVANCE.  Carol Morgan can be reached at 770-383-3360 x20.