Not so many years ago, I paid little attention to that pound sign on my computer keyboard. You know, the one that looks like this: #.
Then along came Twitter and what we have come to call the “hashtag,” which has changed social media marketing forever.
With their wide use now on many different social media platforms, I began to think about how to best use them to promote your brand.
I asked Jay York, EMSI’s senior digital marketing strategist, to share his thoughts.
“If you are not using hashtags, you are missing out on exposure,” Jay says. “When you are on Twitter or Instagram you are trying to become part of the conversation. The hashtag allows people to find your contributions to the conversation. Without them, you are missing out on lots of eyes that could be viewing your content.
“Let’s say you have 1,000 people following you on Twitter,” Jay says. “Not counting re-tweets, then only 1,000 people will see your posts if you don’t use a hashtag.”
Add a hashtag, though, and you start picking up momentum because the post has the potential of being seen by, and re-tweeted by, any number of people. A common hashtag, such as #love, can position your post to be seen by potentially millions of people.
Jay says while there are great benefits to hashtags, there also are pitfalls. Hashtags don’t come with exclusivity. Anyone can use them, so a hashtag can become a weapon that works both for you and against you. Critics of your brand, or just the usual assortment of Internet trolls, may attempt to hijack your hashtag, putting you or your business in a bad light.
Jay reminded me of a prime example of a hijacked hashtag from a few years ago when McDonald’s, apparently hoping for a flattering conversation about the restaurant chain, introduced #McDStories on Twitter.
#McDStories went viral, but not in a good way as the Twitter world had a field day tweeting unflattering tales of their alleged bad experiences with the restaurant.
I asked Jay to share a few suggestions about getting the most out of hashtags.
- Use proprietary hashtags. One of the advantages to a proprietary hashtag, such as “Orange is the New Black’s” hashtag #OITNB, is that it is linked directly to your brand. These are not used as much as a more generic hashtag, but the goal is to brand yourself through the hashtag with the hope it could go viral.
- Don’t overdo it. A post littered with too many hashtags can be difficult to read, so your message might become obscured as your followers see what appears to be gibberish. Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon once performed a humorous skit in which they spoofed the device’s overuse by lacing their spoken conversation with seemingly endless hashtags. Twitter itself suggests using no more than two hashtags per Tweet, and Jay says three should be the very maximum. Instagram has a different etiquette, though, and most Instagram followers will tolerate excess hashtags. But hashtags aren’t that effective on Facebook simply because that’s not the way people use that social media site.
- Think geographically. If you are a local company that depends mainly on local clientele, a hashtag that links to your location works well. Hashtags such as #Seattle or #Bangor drop you into numerous conversations about your hometown.
Since social media has become such a vital element of any comprehensive marketing strategy, understanding all of the nuances is critical.
A hashtag may not look like much, but it’s really a powerful tool that is a double-edged sword. If used correctly it can greatly bolster your marketing reach. Used incorrectly, it can have adverse effects or unintended consequences.
With social media, your hashtag is your brand, so use it wisely!
P.S. If you need help with boosting your social media marketing, give us a call at 727-443-7115 ext. 211 or simply start by getting your Free Media Analysis here!