By some accounts, up to 75 percent of Twitter users include hashtags in their tweets. While hashtags are popular, from a marketing standpoint, it helps to understand why and how to use them. This article describes 10 ways marketers can use hashtags, along with guidelines for their use.
What is a hashtag?
A hashtag is a pound sign (#) that is used in conjunction with keywords or topics and is how Twitter tracks conversations around a particular topic. For example, if you search for the hashtag #social media on Twitter, you can see any social media reference from anyone who has also used that hashtag.
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Twitter’s platform recognizes hashtags and links to them, making it easy for others to join the conversation on the topic.
10 ways to use hashtags
- Monitor visibility. Hashtags can be used to monitor visibility on Twitter, which can be beneficial in keeping tabs on your business or products. Hashtags can also be used to categorize your Tweets by subject or purpose.
- Advertising and promotions. Associate hashtags with advertising and marketing promotions, as this is a good way to start a conversation around your products and services.
Big brands are now incorporating hashtags in TV ads for the same reason. You can take a similar approach with your own advertising efforts, both online and offline. Consider creating a sales promotion or contest based on the use of a unique hashtag.
- Include on product description pages. Another way to use hashtags is to include them on the product description pages of your ecommerce site and link them to Twitter. Again, this provides a tangible way to monitor conversations about your products and interact with those who use them.
- Follow the campaigns on social networks. While hashtags made their debut on Twitter, other social networks, including Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, and Tumblr, now support them. According to some sources, Facebook may also start to support their use. Therefore, hashtags could provide an easy way to track conversations about your social media campaigns.
- Build a community. Hashtags can be a way to build a sense of community around your brand. Consider creating a hashtag using your business name and then promoting its use in your tweets every now and then. Also encourage customers to tweet using the hashtag.
- Target users based on their interests. Many Twitter users follow hashtags based on their interests. Use these conversations to get your brand and products noticed.
- A marketing event. Very often hashtags are associated with events. Maybe you’re attending a conference or hosting a special event and want people to tweet about it. Create a hashtag that uses the first letters of each word in the event title. Let’s say you want to organize a customer appreciation day. Create a hashtag that includes your brand name along with the letter “cap”.
- Trending topics. Search Twitter for hot topics related to your brand or products. This can be especially useful for merchants who sell fashion items such as jewelry or clothing.
Be careful, however, not to associate them with current affairs topics. Take the recent Boston Marathon as an example. What was to be a historic and fun event turned into a terrible tragedy. You definitely wouldn’t want a product related tweet to be linked to this event.
- Follow Friday. A popular use of hashtags is a common practice called Follow friday (#FF), where users highlight others in their Tweets. For traders, it is a way to give some approval to loyal customers or sellers.
- Tweetchats. Many brands, organizations and industry groups use Twitter to host weekly chats. Here are some examples:
- #LikeableChat – A weekly discussion on topics related to social media.
- #adchat – A chat for advertising professionals to discuss design, strategy and industry trends.
- #littlebizchat – This weekly chat provides helpful tips and advice for small start-ups and those who have been in business for less than five years.
There’s no reason you can’t follow suit and start a weekly chat with your customers.
TweetChat is a web application that makes it easy to follow and engage in a tweetchat. Depending on the site, you can adjust the chat speed, enable or block conversations, and you only need to enter the hashtag once and all of your posts will be automatically referenced with it.
Paper.li has a helpful tutorial on how to start and run a tweetchat.
Guidelines for the use of hashtags
- Pick something memorable. While you can use generic terms like #socialmedia or #ecommerce, it’s best that you choose something unique that is also memorable.
For example, Hershey’s created a site called “Cookie Headquarters” to serve as a cooking resource for consumers and uses the hashtag #CookieHQ to organize conversations on Twitter.
- Be brief. You only have 140 characters, so longer hashtags can take up too much space. In addition, they can be more difficult to remember, which could limit their use.
- Make it easy to spell. The easier a hashtag is to spell, the more likely it is to be used.
- Limit the number of hashtags. Don’t use too many hashtags, as this can be confusing and make the tweet difficult to read. Two is a good number, and certainly no more than three. Use them in the body of the tweet itself or add the hashtag at the end.
- Register your hashtag. Twubs.com is a hashtag directory site where you can register your own. In return, you receive a branded hashtag landing page, a moderated “Tweet to Screen” widget to use with live events, and a customizable feed that includes multiple hashtags.
Tony Ferraro, CEO of Twubs, said hashtags have become more of trademarks or URLs that have the power to lead a crowd and organize conversations around given topics. Registering your hashtag makes sense because it gives you a way to protect your brand’s value and prevent others from hijacking it.
- Be careful when associating a hashtag with a specific event. The classic example is fashion designer Kenneth Cole’s use of the hashtag #cairo in 2011. The company incorporated this hashtag to promote its products at a time when there was a lot of unrest in this city. Unfortunately, this strategy did not work; this has resulted in many negative press reports about the brand.
Hashtags can be useful for organizing conversations around your brand and its products. Their thoughtful use can gain more attention for your business, provide an easy way to promote products, and build a stronger customer community.