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Why every brand must understand the value of #Hashtags

this is a hashtag

Some things define the changing of technology between generations; moving from using a typewriter to a PC, music being a file not a physical disc or tape, or software being in the cloud instead of installed on your PC. Businesses using social media rather than phone or email to communicate with their customers would also be a worthy example, but it’s not an area brands can confidently say they’ve mastered just yet. The best example of this?

A single character: #

Yes it’s a Hashtag, but what does it do?

At its simplest, think of the Hashtag as a hook that allows you to mark your post by a subject, theme or category. It allows a word or phrase to become a clickable link in your post that displays all recent posts which have that tag in common. It makes your post part of the wider discussion about a given subject, meaning you’ll come to the attention of a wider audience and pick up new followers.

Where and how can I use them?

  • Hashtags are supported on an increasing number of social platforms. They are widespread on Twitter and Instagram but are also usable on Facebook and Google+.
  • It’s valuable to use at least one Hashtag in every social post, often more than one if it’s merited. If you don’t use a Hashtag then your post will only be seen by your immediate followers and anyone they directly share it with, but it has no chance of further reach to people you don’t know on its own.
  • Using a Hashtag allows that opportunity as many people use Hashtags as a quick form of search to see posts around a particular subject.
  • It’s worth pointing out that, because the Hashtag becomes a link, it changes colour and therefore makes it stand out in your post. This is useful but can make your post hard to scan if they are over-used.

Understanding which Hashtags to use

  • You don’t need to guess which Hashtags to use; you can perform some quick research to find out which Hashtags are valuable to reach a wider audience.
  • You’re probably familiar with trends in Twitter that tell you which topics are globally hot at this moment in time. Be careful of jumping on bandwagons though – more on that later!
  • Hashtagifyme is a tool that allows you to enter a Hashtag and see the most popular related Hashtags.

Creating your Hashtags

  • Firstly, it’s useful to understand why you should use a certain Hashtag and what it could achieve. Here are some of the most common types of Hashtag and why you’d use them:

Brand Hashtag

  • The brand Hashtag is one unique to you. It’s definitely worth having one in mind, but be very aware of its major limitation; no one out there knows this Hashtag or cares about it until you build up a good follower base and that tag has some sort of cachet.
  • There is no point peppering your early posts with your brand Hashtag – you’ll just look silly, it’s a bit like dancing wildly on your own in the corner at a party!
  • Also, be very aware that you can’t control use of your brand Hashtag – anyone can post anything and add it. If someone wants to complain publicly about you and they can see you have a brand Hashtag, you can bet they’re going to use it to embarrass you in front of as many people as possible.

Subject Hashtag

  • These are the most common types of Hashtag, especially for businesses. They are the descriptive ones that describe your post as a subject. You may have an obvious consistent one, but be sure to introduce some variety to try and reach the widest audience.

Trend Hashtag

  • Hashtagging based on trends can be massively powerful; getting your brand associated with something important and relevant at the moment that the subject is in people’s minds can generate huge reach and engagement.
  • But the massive caveat here is relevance.
  • There have been a number of recent examples of brands being pilloried on social media for being insensitive to or profiteering from emotional subjects.
Prince playing guitar on stage.

The most famous recent gaffe was Homebase’s ill-advised hashtag related to the death of pop legend Prince.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Colloquial Hashtag

  • This one is important to explain because brands waste their time with these constantly. There is a common use of Hashtagging as a form of comedic suffix that isn’t designed to be anything other than a visual joke.
  • Popular variations of this are #omg #justsayin #irony.
  • Some brands have managed to cleverly combine a colloquial Hashtag and turn it into a brand Hashtag; the Channel 4 TV show ‘The Last Leg’ have turned #isitok into a synonymous tag for their brand – a subject AND a trend in its own right – but they have the follower base and engagement level to make that happen.
  • Brands should in the main stay away from colloquial Hashtags; they don’t add value and more often than not just make you look like a try-hard who’s desperate to be down with the kids.
  • Just don’t go there!

Reviewing your Hashtags and measuring success

  • Like any marketing effort, it’s very important to review whether your Hashtags are finding the right audience and achieving a worthwhile outcome.
  • Twitter, Instagram and Facebook all have analytics built-in to allow you to see which posts are gaining the most impressions, mentions and driving volume and quality of followers.
  • Try posting the same tweet a couple of times with and without Hashtags, or using tag variations, and you should see a distinct difference in impressions to guide you to which Hashtags are getting you noticed.

To conclude…

  • Hashtags are here to stay and are a vital part of social media marketing. Make sure you’re using them and getting value from joining existing trends.
  • But, like any marketing, make sure they add value to your user. Don’t treat them as an in joke no one will get, associate yourself with anything that hurts your reputation or be seen to be taking advantage of situations for your gain.
  • The final tip is make them legible – they serve no purpose if they are unreadable or misconstrued. And boy can they be misconstrued in ways you’ll really regret – you just need to look at Susan Boyle’s #Susanalbumparty fiasco!

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