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Hashtags (#) What are they and how do we use them for marketing?

Hashtags (#) What are they and how do we use them for marketing?

Hash·Tag: A word or phrase preceded by a hash mark (#), used within a message to identify a keyword or topic of interest and facilitates searchability and ease of use for communication between users.

The hash symbol (or pound when associated with telephones and grain) has been used in information technology to highlight a special meaning. During the early days on the internet, the hash symbol was used as a prefix to label groups on IRC (think InstantMessenger for the early 90s). This way users could locate channels or topics open to those with similar interests across the entire network, ie. #channelname (as opposed to those local to a server, denoted by ‘&’).

The use of hashtags in social media can be traced back to one man in August 2007 when a Google+ designer, Chris Messina, asked his Twitter followers how they felt about using the pound sign (#) to group conversations on Twitter, and thus became the first person to use the hashtag in its modern capacity.

Today, hashtags are everywhere and ubiquitous with social media marketing. It’s no longer relegated to Twitter – you will find hashtags on Google+, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr and Vine.

They show up spontaneously as a response to breaking news (#CNNbreakingnews), otherwise, they’re used to promote, praise, or search people (#BarackObama2:44 PM 5/14/2015), brands (#ESPN), events (#NBAplayoffs), and anything else people want to discuss en masse (#nofilter).

Hashtags are more than just a way to categorize content, hashtags are a means to driving a conversation, harnessing support and garnering attention for your brand. But what’s the right way to use them?

How to Use Hashtags

Using hashtags on your photos, videos or social media posts is as simple as adding the ‘#’ sign before a single word or phrase. Additionally, there are are three basic etiquette rules for using hashtags as a business:

  1. Don’t string too many words together with a single hashtag.
  2. Don’t #spam #with #hashtags by over-tagging a single post (ie. “#every #single #word”).
  3. Use hashtags when it is relevant to your business, brand or community (ie. location, industry, event, etc.).

Though it is easy to create a hashtag, it’s not quite as easy to make your content relevant, searchable or highly visible. The following strategies will help you make the most of adding hashtags to your social media posts.

Find Out What Your Audience Is Already Talking About

Get to know your audience. Do you want to connect with existing customers and followers, are you looking to reach out to new customers, or perhaps you want to connect and support local businesses. Decide who you want to reach and take a look at what those groups are discussing or what hashtags are trending across a network.

Align Yourself with Trending Topics or Industry Keywords

Instead of creating your own hashtags, you can increase your exposure by posting about a trending topic or industry event/product. Just be sure that you have a clear understanding of the #trend or #product; do research before associating your business’ post with it.

The absolute key thing to remember here is relevance. There are times when a brand attempts to force itself onto users through trending topics when it just doesn’t make sense. When it does make sense, riding the coattails of a trending hashtag can lead to significant returns. For example, a hotel in downtown San Diego might do well with #SDCC or #comiccon as a way to connect to the Comic-Con event nearby.

Create Your Own Hashtags

You can also create your own hashtag to expand brand awareness. Inject some humor, promote your events or open a discussion with customers. It is important to be genuine and look for creative opportunities to show your audience that there are real people behind your social media campaigns.

If you do it right, your hashtag could start trending among your circle of followers, before spreading to their followers. The next time someone within your social sphere sees that hashtag they’ll be reminded of your brand. Be sure your original hashtags are free of ambiguity so you can direct the conversation in a positive direction.

Which Networks Support Hashtags?

Most social media networks use hashtags to organize data and make it easier for users to find relevant content. Each network has a different approach to creating and using hashtags. Here is a rundown of the most common social media sites supporting hashtags and how you can maximize your business presence by adding them to your tweets, posts and photo/videos.


Twitter

The network that brought us the hashtag is the most popular site to use it on. You can find the trending topics on the left hand side of your Twitter stream. Event hashtags (conferences, festivals, etc.) also work very well on Twitter, for instance #blackfriday or #cybermonday. You don’t need to actually be in an event to network with people through the official hashtag. Event organizers usually market the official hashtag very well, which means additional exposure for you if you use it.

Tip: Twitter hashtags don’t support special characters like +, !, $, %, -, ^, &, *, etc. They do support letters, numbers and _ (underscore). And there is no limit to the number of hashtags as long as the “tweet” is within 140 characters.


Google+

Google+ uses hashtags similar to the other sites, but instead of letting users organize and monitor their conversations Google+ will auto hashtag perceived topics to allow for greater exploration of the platform by Google and its users.

Google+ hashtags seem to work great for exposing your updates to a wider audience (ie. people outside your extended circles). Unfortunately, since Google+ auto-tags, a specific event or industry hashtag may not be picked up; it would behove a business to use a descriptive hashtag (ie. #DIYtips, #crafting) to help Google+ discern the topic.

Tip: There are no limitation as the the number of hashtags you can add to a Google+ post, however the hashtag must be written as a single word, without any spaces. Google+ will drop most special characters (which are not letters, numbers or underscore) from the linked tag, and does not support numbers only (#2015) hashtags.


Facebook

Clicking a hashtag on Facebook will bring you to a separate page with posts that are visible to you based on the various users’ privacy settings. You’ll also see the different trending topics in the top right hand corner of your News Feed.

It may not be the most useful Facebook marketing strategy, but you can’t really go wrong by using hashtags on Facebook. Use hashtags (1 or 2 only) when they make sense and when you use something relevant that people can filter on to find more relevant conversation.

Don’t fret if you skip putting a hashtag in your post, they are not as central to Facebook’s networking as they are to Twitter or Google+.

Tip: Facebook hashtags don’t support special characters like +, !, $, %, -, ^, &, *, etc. They do support numbers and _ (underscore). There are no limitations as to the number of hashtags you can add to a Facebook update, however the hashtag must be written as a single word, without any spaces.


Instagram

Instagram hashtags can increase your following dramatically, especially when using trending or location specific hashtags. Simply hashtag your post/picture and it will create a link to a page with other pictures of the same subject.

To expand your audience and make the most of your Instagram hashtags, participate in hashtag games like #tbt (throwback thursday), #humpday (wednesday) or use location-based hashtags to connect with other locals (#obx, #losangeles, #williamsburg).

Tip: Instagram hashtags do not support special characters like +, !, $, %, -, ^, &, *, etc. They do support numbers and _ (underscore). You can add up to 30 hashtags to a single photo post.


Tumblr

Tumblr hashtags can help anyone on the platform to discover your updates, but that update will only make the search results if it is original content; don’t waste your time tagging re-blogs. Each hashtag must be linked by adding them through the “tags” field at the bottom of the page. When you type a tag, Tumblr will automatically add a hashtag to the front of the word.

Tip: Tumblr hashtags support spaces, apostrophes, commas, dots and many other symbols. There are no limitations to the number of hashtags to can add, however, be aware that only the first five are searchable.


Pinterest

The main thing that you need to bear in mind when creating hashtags on Pinterest is that they are only clickable in a Pin description. The support for searching hashtags remains limited, so you will need to search the keyword to find the content, but it is still reasonable to use hashtags for branding and cross-promotion from Facebook or Twitter.

Tip: Pinterest hashtags do not support special characters like +, !, $, %, -, ^, &, *, etc. They do support numbers and _ (underscore). There is no rules or limitations to the number of hashtags you can add to a post or Pin comment.


YouTube

Hashtag use within YouTube is most prevalent in the comments section. Users can leave comments with hashtags, which will then click through to Google+ where you can see other posts with the same hashtag. Businesses may also create hashtags modeling the title of a video being uploaded to help their content be found through Google Search, Google+, Facebook or Twitter.

Tip: There are no limitation as the the number of hashtags you can add to a YouTube comment, however the hashtag must be written as a single word, without any spaces.


Vine

This company is owned by the creators of the hashtag, so you better believe that Vine supports hashtags. As with other sites, adding a hashtag to your Vine’s caption will bring you to a page where other Vines share the same hashtag.

Hashtag contests are a good way to get more traffic. Simply upload your own original content or encourage your followers to share their vines which include a specific hashtag.

Tip: Vine hashtags do not support special characters like +, !, $, %, -, ^, &, *, etc. They do support numbers and _ (underscore). You can add up to three hashtags to each caption, but you may also add more via the comments section.

Other Networks that Support Hashtags:

Kickstarter
Flickr
FriendFeed

Keep it Simple

Hashtags help you and social media sites to categorize your content, engage with your community and set/follow market trends. Make sure your use of hashtags is making the right impression, they should be relevant to you and easy to use

If your followers, friends and clients are having a conversation using your hashtag, it could be helping you to be visible by a wider audience, driving traffic to your page and hopefully business as well. Review your social media marketing efforts to ensure you are tagging your posts in a manner which makes you most visible.

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