The Definitive Guide to Using Hashtags for Business Marketing
TLDR: Hashtags have become more than just a way to filter through large bodies of information about a subject on Twitter or Instagram. They’re now a powerful cultural icon, a tool for branding, audience development, and cross channel marketing. While many social media and community managers use hash tags on a daily basis, most have a muted understanding of best practices regarding methods for applying them in a professional environment. In this post, Vox takes a look at how and why hashtags work and what businesses stand to gain by employing a well-executed hashtag strategy.
If there’s one thing we can agree on, it’s that there’s a lot of guides on how to use a hashtag. The topic (and many like it) tends to act as a sort of low-hanging fruit for the content marketing world – easy pickings for social influencers looking to build subject matter expertise around a core topic. Because of that, so many of the stories we see focused on “how to use hashtags” seem to describe a universally topical set of rules and standards to be applied, according to the author, evenly across all use cases.
It’s a big wide world out there however and individuals have different goals than influencers, who may vary still from local small business owners. With that in mind, we wanted to create a definitive understanding of “hashtag strategy” for businesses – how to plan, use, and build metrics around hashtags that will actually help get the most out of your social media marketing campaigns.
As a marketer (or not) you’ve probably noticed that hashtags perform better on some platforms than others. They seem to be very popular in some circles; others, not so much. The “what” and “when” however, we’ll assume you’ve got a handle on. Today, we’re going to talk about the “how” an “why”. More specifically we’re going to show that no matter where you use them, no matter what business you’re in, there’s some critical pieces of strategy in how you implement hashtags that can strongly benefit marketing campaigns across your organization.
A Better Understanding of What Hashtags Are
When Chris Messina tweeted out the first mention of the hashtag (formerly known at the “pound sign”) as a possible way to organize interest groups on Twitter, he had no way of knowing the collateral impact it was going to have on the world of inbound marketing. The character quickly caught on as a way to help users define their own content as well as cut through the noise to find information about particular stories, people, or subjects that they were interested in. Want to know about the “Seattle Seahawks”? #Seahawks. The “State of the Union” speech? #STOU. And so on. Hashtags evolved quickly from there and soon developed as a convenient way to add syntax to images which, without any given description, were virtually unable to be cataloged otherwise.
how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?
— Chris Messina (@chrismessina) August 23, 2007
Today, hash tags have grown well beyond the social media arena to become part of our larger digital lexicon. They play a role in Google’s search algorithm in the form of “social signals”. They help define channels of thought, such as in the popular collaboration tool, Slack. They’ve even become important brand marks for some businesses.
Most importantly, hashtags have developed as a tool for, what we call, “social SEO”. While the use of hashtags to help potential customers discover content about their favorite brands, products, and interests is the nothing new, the strategy behind which ones you use and why, has evolved significantly. Yet so many marketers end up using hash tags in a way that leaves them simply talking to themselves and other marketers in a kind of never-ending loop that exposes them to everyone, but their intended audience.
Vox is here with a list of our own “do’s” and “don’ts” – including some very common missteps, by even the best of marketers.
Do Less of This:
- Stop telling people what you want them to hear and start paying attention to what they’re interested in: Often times, brands utilize hashtags that no one is actually searching for because they think they should be found under it. Branding aside, you can hashtag your company or product name as many times as you want. If no one knows who you are, you’re wasting time, valuable real estate, and your reader’s attention. If you’re new to the marketplace and trying to sell a product, use hashtags that are actually going to get your product found by someone who has never heard of your brand. That’s the goal here, right?
- Avoid using hash tags in the middle of sentences. Human’s understand the written word because we have a mutually agreed upon syntax. It’s what all spoken language is based on. When you insert a hash tag in the middle of a sentence, you’re #essentially #interrupting the reader’s brain and your own message. This makes it difficult for your audience to quickly scan your content and decide if it’s worth their time. There is nothing worse than wasting a customer’s time.
- Three is plenty. We’ll make a notable exception for Instagram here, in that because it is a photo based network, hashtags became the only way to search content that you were interested in. That said, the general rules still apply, quality trumps quantity. A great rule of thumb is to make sure you that hit your market, product type, and brand. For example: #Fashion #Shoes #Nike
- Keep it Simple.The kinds of long hash tags that you sometimes see people including in their content (#thisisawonderfulhashtagandyoullloveit) don’t add value to your post. Remember, that hashtags were created as a way to search. If no one is searching it, it doesn’t matter. In addition, it’s just gotten a little played out.
- Don’t get too specific. We understand, you’re trying to sell your favorite new bottle of 2006 Silver Oak Syrah from Napa’s lower valley. Really sit down and think about who you want to be found by, however. Potential customers that you’re trying introduce a fantastic new product to have never heard of you. Because they’re not searching in specific terms then, your highly detailed hashtag strategy boxes them out. For customers who already know about the exact product you’re marketing, you’re likely providing redundant content and they’re already purchasing it somewhere else. If you’re offering great deal to a niche’ community, there’s an argument to be made hers, but don’t bet on it. You’re better off running targeted campaigns around specific subjects in this case. #wine > #napa, #syrah
Tweets with hashtags get nearly twice as much engagement as those without. Using more than two hashtags at a time however, will drop engagement by around 17% ~Jeff Haden, Inc.
Do More of This:
- Use hashtags as a tool to add value to your campaigns. Specific hashtags are great for building Easter egg style content into your messaging and even provide an opportunity for you to do a little A/B testing on how different types of messaging are driving engagement. For example: “Be one of the first 100 people to reply when we post with the hashtag #myproduct and receive and extra 10% off your order.”
- Hashtags are an excellent way to promote cross channel engagement. Don’t leave your hashtags on social. Make them part of your style guide. Apply them to print media. Mention them on Pandora. Consistency is key here. Again, there’s an amazing opportunity when using hashtags to see which channels are performing the best at driving followers down your social sales funnel.
- Build campaigns around hashtags. By launching a #myproduct campaign, you’re letting customers know that the latest news and highlights about your product or promotion lives on
social media. Channeling users into these funnels builds audience development. Let the hashtag become part of the campaign branding. One of the best examples we’ve seen of this has come from the team at Marc Jacobs who recently launched the #streetmarc campaign.
- Use hashtags for creative contests. Pinterest is probably the best example of this practice, but the strategy also works well on other visually based social channels like Polyvore, Houzz, and Instagram. Asking followers to apply a branded hash tag to a personal creation, like a collage or design, gives them “ownership” in your brand. Ownership drives brand evangelism and that is the best kind of marketing you can get.
- Use hashtags to develop “Subject Matter Expertise”. Hash tags are great way to establish your brand as a frequent contributor to a specific topic. If you’re an amazing local pancake house, then add #pancakes to every post you make. Someone searching for breakfast might stumble into your post.
- Build relevant content around trending topics. One of our favorite ways to gain audience share is to insert adapted content into a trending conversation with a hashtag. Be careful with this. We are not suggesting you simply piggyback off of a trending hashtag. That is incredibly spammy and is an all-around bad practice. Create content around your brand that is relevant to that topic and then use a trending hash tag to gain expose it. If it’s “Mother’s Day” take a picture of all the moms in your office and share with the hashtag #MothersDay #AcmeShoes
- Lastly, “Research. Research. Research.” We can’t say it enough – “RESEARCH”. Blindly firing off hashtags into the ether, without any goal in mind usually ends up with lackluster results. Remember, that like SEO, people are going to be discovering your brand through social, but the difference in the number of searches and audience demographics around say #shoes vs. #sneakers, can be massive. To help dialing in on key words and phrases that will get you noticed, try using social listening tools. Sites like “Tag Board” offer a great way to find out what people are talking about on social media. In combination with the use Google’s “Trending” tool to plan content, you’ve got a pretty powerful “one, two” combination for executing to the users who are the most likely to buy your products.
Want to build a great marketing campaign using hashtags? Contact us today and we’d be happy to help you get started!