For many, hashtags are an enigma–a social media buzzword along the likes of “virality” and “geotagging.” However, this method of virtually labeling and grouping terms has become valuable enough to warrant the attention of any modern businessperson.
Though a pop culture punchline, hashtags are an essential tool for multinational brands to small businesses, car manufacturers to fast food chains. Using hashtags effectively can lead to major strategic wins for your company, regardless of size or trade, but only if you give the social media staple the respect it deserves.
Utilizing hashtags may seem a little juvenile to the unpracticed, but trust us when we say you’ll be #winning if you investigate and implement the right hashtag strategy for your brand.
Starting With the Basics
So, you don’t know a darn thing about hashtags. That’s OK–we’re here to make introductions. Say hello to #. That guy is called a hashtag. You may know it from its former life as the pound button, but it has taken on an entirely new meaning in the world of the web–specifically within many popular social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
At the base level, hashtags can be used to “tag” specific key terms involving your post. For example, if Jessica, a proud dog mom, shares a photo of her shiba inu, Charlie, she could hashtag terms like #dogmom, #shibainu and #shibainusofinstagram. She could also start an original hashtag term that allows friends and fans of Charlie to quickly find photos of him on the platform. Such a tag may be #Charlietheshibainu or #Charlietheshiba, as long as no one else is using this tag already (who knows, there could very well already be a shiba named Charlie on Instagram).
As you’ve probably noticed, these terms cannot contain spaces. They also should not begin with a numerical or symbol, but numbers can be added after a letter.
Within most social media platforms, clicking a hashtag allows users to see every post that has ever used the tag, which is handy for organizing posts, tracking a trending topic or even entering yourself into a contest.
It’s incredibly important to understand that hashtags are often used in hot-button issues, political debates and other rather heavy subjects. Before using a hashtag, it is always safer to look up its context before blindly jumping into a conversation in which you do not intend to participate.
How Using #Hashtags can Help Your #Brand Win
- Get in on the Conversation: Hopping into the conversation on a trending topic can not only expose your brand to new potential customers, but also establish itself as an entity that keeps up with the times. If the #WorldSeries is trending, you better believe hot dog and beer brands will be weighing in on the game and utilizing that hashtag to reach a wide, targeted audience. However, companies must always be careful not to jump into a conversation that is inappropriate for their brand. Do some research on a hashtag to ensure it’s not being used for dubious purposes, is removed from politics and is something that feels like a natural fit for your brand.
- Gather a Social Following: Have you ever noticed that most major brands that are active on social media also have a short hashtagged phrase that is closely associated with them? Based on campaigns, the company tagline or a limited contest or event, having a hashtag that fans of your brand can rally behind can help your audience build a community around your product or service. For example, The Orlando EDC has rallied around the hashtag #ThisIsOrlando to display interesting aspects of Orlando life on social media:
- Create a Contest: Hashtags are one of the simplest ways to conduct a contest. On Instagram, in particular, a common contest involves contestants simply sharing a photo along with a promoted, wholly original hashtag in order to enter. This avoids the use of cumbersome third-party apps or other means that can get complicated and expensive. For example, to support its limited-time ground turkey offering in 2016, our client, Tijuana Flats, concocted the “#GiveYouTheBird” campaign. The company asked followers to post images of people or situations that they want to “give the bird” to for a chance to win free meals. Despite the somewhat risque (yet appropriate for the brand) approach, this not only increased brand awareness, but got customers highly engaged and excited about their company on social media.
A Tool Worth Hashing Out
Though hashtags first gained popularity through Twitter, all of the major social media players utilize some aspect of hashtagging, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Google+ and more. We understand the apprehension–new terminology, new tech and lots of new rules and jargon to throw on the marketing know-how pile. However, if you choose to simply throw your hands up in surrender and ignore hashtagging, you do so at your business’s social media peril. Much like social media as a whole, companies that do not respect the potential utility of hashtags for branding growth and client cultivation will be left in the #past.