Over the last year in particular, social media optimisation (SMO) has become a staple in digital marketing. It’s not enough to simply earn organic traffic through Google these days, and social signals are playing a bigger role than ever in Page Rank and assessing a website’s credibility. SMO has two main goals; creating high quality content that is valuable, attractive and useful, and then making that content as ‘shareable’ as possible. This will often mean putting share buttons at the end of posts along with other SMO tools that may seem rather obvious today. One such tool which is still overlooked is the #hashtag. Hashtags are incredibly valuable in a number of ways, from plain growth hacking to local event organising and trendsetting.
In case you’re not sure what a #hashtag is or does…
Feel free to skip this paragraph but I thought it best to define in clear terms what a hashtag actually is. If you’re not sure what a hashtag is, the easiest way to think of it is as a ‘file under’ label. For example, you’ll often see news items or popular televised events given a hashtag (e.g. #election2015) which a user can add to their post to ‘categorise’ it. Other users can then search these hashtags to see what people have to say about a given issue. So, where did hashtags originate?
The origin of the #hashtag
Most people will probably associate hashtagging with Twitter, and rightly so. Hashtags first came into a being as a way of categorising tweets and creating ‘trends’, but the thing not a lot of people know is that Twitter itself had very little to do with the emergence of hashtags. They were, in fact, brought about by its users who were seeking ways to connect and share information. After a little while the company caught on and implemented hashtags into the application and thus the hashtag was born. These days it’s difficult to find a social network that doesn’t use hashtags (even Facebook who were staunchly opposed to the phenomena have now caught on).
Hashtag Do’s and Don’ts
The use of a hashtag really does depend on the social platform you are using, but generally the recipe for the success stays the same. Here are some great ways to use hashtags across Twitter and Facebook as examples:
- Monitor existing trends and start new ones. If you include a hashtag in your Tweet or status update, not only will you reach your direct follows, but also all of those users already engaged in that particular topic. Of course, starting a new hashtag is slightly more difficult and will require a little effort.
- See what’s trending. This one is really for users or Twitter. In the application there’s a handy ‘trending’ screen with a filter, allowing you to see which topics are currently generating the most conversation across various regions and countries. Using them can have benefits and bring some instant traffic, but be wary of the pitfalls which we’ll broach shortly…
- Promote your events. This is a great way to generate ‘buzz’ around your events. You’ll often see TV shows doing the same now as a hashtag flashes up on screen encouraging people to join in the conversation and tweet. You can do the same with company or social events and advertise the hashtag to grow your traffic (and maybe even your followers).
- Take advantage of ‘local search’. A lot of people genuinely use Twitter to search for local services with #London or #NewYork. If your brand or service operates on a local level – why not take advantage of this and see what happens?
These are all great opportunities for a touch of growth hacking and a genuine way to boost your fan-base. But there are one or two things you really shouldn’t do concerning hashtags. Here are the biggest don’ts…
- Don’t hijack hashtags. Seriously, this is one of the main offenders. If you see what’s trending and decide to get in on some the action by using a popular hashtag, make sure you’re making a relevant contribution! If you’re sharing something unrelated and clearly abusing the hashtag you’ll be seen as little more than a pesky spammer and will likely lose followers. A fine example is #Aurora, which, at the time, was being used to discuss the tragic ‘Aurora shooting’ in Colorado – but Celeb Boutique had taken it upon themselves to use #Aurora in order to advertise Kim Kardashian’s new ‘Aurora Dress’. Needles to say, this was a terrible misstep and a PR nightmare.
- Be careful of things backfiring. A short while ago McDonald’s introduced the hashtag #McDStories, urging people to share their fun experiences at McDonald’s restaurants. What they got however, was an influx of abuse and embarrassing stories about people not liking their food. It took them a good while to move past that and at the time it was impossible to disassociate themselves from it! So be warned, once you open the floodgates the hashtag becomes the property of the community, and if you attach a big marketing campaign to it you’ll have to live with the consequences if things turn sour.
- Don’t be ambiguous. This can be difficult, and we’re not psychic, but sometimes a word can become associated with something else after you’ve incorporated it as a hashtag and invested in your marketing strategy.
All in all, make sure you’re consistent and that you choose quality over quantity when hashtagging. In this way, hashtags can almost become brands themselves! But never be afraid to experiment and explore to see what’s out there and don’t be afraid to promote away.