You may have seen the hashtag first on Twitter — the number or pound “#” symbol accompanied by words or phrases that are highlighted in blue, indicating that they are clickable. When users click on a hashtag, they are led to another page containing a list of posts containing the same hashtags. While the first hashtag appeared on Twitter, they are now used in many social network platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Google+ and YouTube.
The first Twitter hashtag appeared on a post by Twitter user Chris Messina who proposed the use of the pound “#” sign for groups. His idea was to use the hashtag as a way to organise messages into meaningful groups and for other users to be able to listen in on conversations involving specific hashtags. Today, the hashtag is used for different purposes although it is open to abuse and still a great number of online users are unclear about its real meaning.
So What’s So Good About Using Hashtags?
Hashtags can be powerful tools for digital marketing and communication, providing benefits for businesses, publishers, organizations, causes and personalities.
To categorize messages: By adding your brand name or slogan after the pound “#” sign, you can create a new category or allow your content to be filed under an existing category on the social media platform. When users click on a hashtag anywhere on that network, they can readily find your update or message along with other updates containing the same hashtag. By adding your content to a category, you can help other users better understand your content and what to expect from your future posts.
To serve as keywords: With millions of tweets and social media updates published every day, getting them in front of your target readers can be a huge challenge. Adding a hashtag before your targeted keywords can boost your content’s reach and awareness, helping more users find you online. Tip: Use a popular keyword to boost the chances of your hashtag getting retweets and shares online.
To start a topic or discussion: Hashtags help users to find and join in on conversations involving hot topics. To initiate a new topic or discussion, identify some popular hashtags and use them as your own by posting an online question or by inviting users to tweet their comments.
Launch a competition: An online competition can stimulate activity among your target market. Incorporate a hashtag in an online invitation to participate in a competition and use the hashtag as well to indicate the contest mechanics and prize.
Host and join chats: Particularly on Twitter, a hashtag can boost your following and brand awareness when it is used to generate online comments. To do this, simply type your message and add the targeted hashtag, reminding users to include the same in their replies, tweets and retweets. Because Twitter hashtags are classified in real-time, online users can instantly see and respond to other users of the same hashtags. It’s a great way to network with online users with similar interests and views, who are interested in your products/services, and increasing your chances of growing your followers as well.
To obtain information: Following hashtags that are relevant to your niche is an effective method for learning about your potential customers, their needs, pains and wants. Businesses can learn a lot about their market by listening in online ‘conversations’ surrounding a targeted hashtag.
How to Use Hashtags
As marketers discover the power of hashtags on social media, abusive practices such as overuse and spamming have cast some negativity on their use. The keys to smart hashtag use lie in observing a minimum quantity and relevance.
- Think of popular words or target a specific word or phrase if you intend to build a slogan or new brand. Type the number or pound “#” sign before your target phrase or word before sending.
- Use industry keywords or common terms that resonate with your target customer or reader.
- Aim for one hashtag per post or when considered absolutely necessary, no more than three hashtags at one time.
- Avoid repetitive use of hashtags in an unrelated post or tweet or when using hashtags does not add value to the conversation.
- Include a relevant hashtag in a conversation that resonates with your audience. This inspires adoption of your hashtag and further use in their conversations.
- Use short and concise words as hashtags. Words in hashtags are not separated by spaces, making longer characters difficult to read and comprehend at a glance. On Twitter, the character count of your hashtag is important because each post is limited to 140 characters.
To see what hashtags are trending right now visit http://www.hashtags.org/.
Knowing when and how to use hashtags on social media is vital for any business. As digital marketing tools, hashtags allow small businesses to get their messages across and to compete with larger and more established entities. Industry leaders as well need hashtags to listen in on conversations, engage with customers and discover ways to improve their products and services.