Hashtags are to social media what iPhones are to Silicon Valley: they’re everywhere. Hashtags are used in everything from campaigns by major companies to updates from your friends. Marketers try to capitalize on hashtags and use them in the most effective way possible, but it can get confusing and overwhelming to anyone trying to make a lasting impact.
By the time you finish reading this primer, you should have a comprehensive idea on when to use hashtags most effectively, based on which platform best takes advantage of hashtags.
First to give you an idea of how widespread hashtags have become here is a list of websites that they can be used on.
- Diaspora software
- Gawker Media websites
- GNU Social
- Sina Weibo
It is a big list and as you can see if you aren’t using hashtags you are probably missing out on attracting more engagement.
Each social network has different hashtag etiquette so I will describe the use in the five main social networks: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram.
#Don’t #Hashtag #Every #Word. You only want to hashtag words that might be relevant or phrases that might be searched for in your industry. Overusing hashtags will make you look like unprofessional and give the impression you don’t know how to properly use Twitter.
Here are some examples of proper hashtag use:
This tweet about CES from Salesforce shows how to jump on an event bandwagon. Everyone was talking about the electronics expo in early January, using that #CES2015 hashtag, and Salesforce’s tweet would be indexed in that hashtag search:
You can also see relevant hashtags being used by content-marketing expert Gary Vaynerchuk in his tweets:
If you are running any type of campaign with user-generated content you are going to want to use a hashtag so all the pictures or posts can easily be searched and discovered.
You can use services such as RiteTag to see which hashtags are trending and which are too popular to use. For instance, adding #tech to your tweet will make it one of thousands; it’s recommended to fine-tune the hashtag to something more niche such as #ecommerce or #mobile or #wearables.
There is a long debate on whether or not hashtags belong on Facebook. Some marketers say yes and others say no. What it comes down to is how you use them. You want to position them in a similar way as you do on Twitter, but not completely.
On Facebook the hashtag is used like a Twitter hashtag, but is used in a more sarcastic tone. Since Facebook is more personal than, say, LinkedIn, users might use a hashtag as an “aside” or small joke on a post.
Still, many B2B companies are bringing their Twitter ‘tags to Facebook, as we see in how Cisco is trying to tie their #WeAreCisco campaign across multiple networks:
Google+ has a very interesting way of handling hashtags. They work in much the same way as Facebook, but Google+ has a bonus feature of auto hashtagging. If you hashtag a post Google+ will suggest up to 3 additional hashtags that are related to your post on the right side of the post.
If you do not use any hashtags Google+ may automatically hashtag the keywords in your post, if it has enough text.
Another cool feature of Google+ Hashtags is its ability to add hashtags to pictures, with their special Algorithms.
Pinterest may be known for recipes and fashion accessories but many B2B firms would be wise to include it in their social media strategy. One of the key features of Pinterest is its repinning feature. If your post gets repinned on another board, it means that you have twice the chance of someone seeing your post and clicking its link. Each repin increases your visibility thus greatly increasing the effectiveness of your marketing.
But what about Pinterest hashtags?
- Hashtags are only clickable in pin descriptions and nowhere else
- Unique hashtags are more effective then broad ones, as noted earlier
- Lastly Pinterest doesn’t truly support hashtags. If you search #Cookies, all posts containing the word cookies will appear
Hashtags on Instagram are a completely different ballgame than every other social network. Instagram, being mainly a visual network, allows you to use hashtags to describe the photo, boosting its ability to be searched for by other users. The more hashtags you use in Instagram the more visibility your posts will most likely enjoy.
Here are a few pointers:
- Use multiple hashtags but at most only use 10 a post, at the absolute maximum
- Use your SEO keywords for your business because that is what people will be searching for. Make sure the keywords are active and relevant before you use them though
- Use unique hashtags or those related to one of your campaigns
- Don’t forget about the commonly used hashtags such as #ThrowbackThursday, #MotivationMonday
Let’s talk about some hashtag disasters now to give you examples of what not to do.
One of the bigger hashtag fiascos from 2014 was DiGiorno’s tweet using #whyIstayed. The hashtag was trending in relation to the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal. When using hashtags make sure you know why they are trending…otherwise you’ll have to issue a mea culpa.
Yes, there is such a thing as bad publicity, and you don’t want your business to be on the receiving end of a terribly misguided tweet simply because your social media manager wanted to hop on board a trending issue.
Here is another perfect example of a brand not being aware of the sensitivity of the hashtag. Entenmanns pushed out the tweet below when #notguilty was trending during the Casey Anthony trial:
Before you drive down the #hashtag highway, remember these few takeaways:
- Don’t overuse hashtags.
- Make them unique.
- Ensure they are relevant to your product/services
- Make sure you know why it is trending before you use it
- Have fun with hashtags…just like Saturday Night Live did in the video below.
Photo via Flickr, Creative Commons