By now, almost everybody knows about hashtags. Adding a hashtag to your message on Twitter or another social media platform is very, very easy. The trick, however, is to use it as a powerful tool for your brand and online lead generation. What are the rules when it comes to powerful hashtags? What can you do as an entrepreneur to reach a bigger audience, increase engagement and ultimately, improve sales?
In this blog, I will give you a short history lesson on the hashtag. You will find 13 tips on how to create powerful hashtags as well as a few recent examples of powerful hashtags. You will also find how you can best use hashtags for events and campaigns. I aim to provide enough examples in order to make the story clear. After reading this blog, I hope that you can decide what your company should do to optimize its hashtagging. You can also use this blog as a checklist to see whether your company has already done everything it can to come to powerful hashtags.
Where did it all start?
The tweet below is where it all started. #Barcamp was the first hashtag ever. The weirdest thing is, Twitter first rejected the idea! According to Messina, “[Twitter] told me flat out, ‘These things are for nerds. They are never going to catch on.’”
how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?
— ⍨ Chris Messina ⍨ (@chrismessina) 23 augustus 2007
What is a hashtag?
According to James Rhodes, it is time “we all gave hashtags the respect they deserve. They are not just for fun; they are powerful tools. With information overload on every social network, hashtags have become the only way to make sense of the incredible data we create. Without hashtags, social networks are an unorganized mess. With hashtags, social networks highly organized feeds of information. You can find unique and high-quality content on any topic. Easily accessible, live conversations are happening right now. Some of them may even be about your niche.”
Socialfly agrees: “when hashtags are used correctly, they do a wonderful job of compartmentalizing the vast cyber chat that social media facilitates, and allow you to have that side conversation at a large cocktail party. They allow you to host contests, weigh in on an existing conversation, and even create global trends.”
13 tips on how to create powerful hashtags
Rhodes says that hashtags are “a powerful way to give your content new legs and make yourself easy to find. If you want to maximize your social efforts, master them.” He gives 13 tips to do so:
Use them sparingly
#While it may be #fun to use a #hashtag every 3 #words, do not overuse them. It messes with your audience’s ability to read your content and looks spammy. Your content should never exceed three hashtags. Hashtags are just like call-to-actions; they are more effective when used in moderation.
Socialfly offers the following image:
Keep it simple
You do not have to reinvent the wheel to use hashtags effectively. Actually, it is better if you do not. There is no problem with adding to other active, effective hashtags. Keep them simple and consistent.
Trending topics are a great way to jump into an active conversation. Do not hijack trending topics with links, but if you see a trending hashtag that is relevant, check it out. Start by listening, but if you can add value, jump in! Trending topics are a great way to reach engaged and passionate users.
Popular topics like #business can be very noisy. It is hard to stand out in a feed that ticks 100 tweets per minute. However, if you are more selective with your hashtags, you can put your content in less competitive feeds. Instead of trying to compete with the world with #business, try something less competitive like #smallbiz.
Have a plan
Do the research. Get to understand the hashtags relevant to you. Search for hashtags related to your niche and look for some to organize your content throughout your social networks. You can start by deriving hashtags from your SEO keywords and blog categories.
No matter what hashtag you use, make it relevant. Just because your audience checks #business does not mean you should use it in every tweet. Use one rule: if a piece of content adds value to a conversation, hashtag it. If it does not, do not.
Cut the crap
Some hashtags are just plain crap. There is no need hashtag pronouns, silly words, and other gimmicks. Hashtags are meant to help people find you. Instead of messing around, take the time to understand them. Incorrect use can even look unprofessional.
Create your own
Creating your own hashtag is a great way to organize information on a particular topic. When your audience needs information, it is all there in one feed, organized by your hashtag.
Next time you use a hashtag, click on it. Check out the feed that comes up. Is it just a random jumble of information or is it an organized list of quality content? If it is a crowded mess of information, you might want to try another one.
You can either hashtag with #caps or no #Caps, just be consistent. You can also place your hashtags before links or after links. It does not really matter where you put your hashtags; just keep it consistent. Try to keep your frequency consistent. If you have ten posts with one hashtag and your next post has four, it might throw your audience off.
Join a chat
The most effective way to use hashtags is to join live chats. Hashtags can become chatrooms. Places where people meet for a certain amount of time and talk to each other through a certain hashtag. These places are one of the best places to find and connect with passionate members of a niche. Find the Twitter chats that are relevant to your niche and join one.
Live chat an event
A great way to utilize hashtags is to live Tweet something. Whether it is something like the Olympics or a smaller event, live tweeting an event is a great way to boost your reach. Usually, these hashtags have engaged users checking them religiously, so adding value to them can bring a huge return.
It is okay to use hashtags in a humorous or expressive way to add value to your content (#TrueStory, #NewsFlash). Specialized hashtags like this can actually increase your engagement. Nevertheless, remember to use them in moderation. Too many can look unprofessional and spammy.
5 features of powerful hashtags for events
The tips above apply to general hashtags. You can also come up with a specific hashtag for an event you are organizing. You want to use this hashtags before, during and after the event. While the tips above are good in the case of an event as well, Pim Stuurman offers five features of hashtags for events. This means there is some overlap with above, but they also contain some specific insights.
A good event hashtag is unique. If your hashtag is also used by another event, people who use your hashtag to check out the online discussion around your event will get confused. Messages about the other event will create a lot of noise in your feed. You want to avoid that. Check the uniqueness of the hashtags on your brainstorm list, by examining Twitter Search and other major networks.
A hashtag needs to be easy to understand. Would you guess what #vntgevnt15, for example, is about? It might be unique, but too hard to decipher. If attendees even remember it, they will surely type it wrong. For a vintage design event in 2015, #vintagedesign15 is a better hashtag idea. It is longer, but at least your attendees and their followers on social media will immediately understand what it is about.
Design your hashtag to stick. If your attendees cannot remember it, the hashtag is useless.
Short and sweet
In a tweet, every character counts. That is why the perfect hashtag counts only eight characters or less. The longer your event hashtag, the fewer characters Twitter users have to comment about your event.
No bad implications and associations
Can your event hashtag be interpreted in another way? Does it have any bad implications or associations? Susan Boyle’s PR team obviously skipped this step. To promote Susan Boyle’s new album event, they came up with this unfortunate hashtag: #susanalbumparty. Susan Album Party, or
Su’s Anal Bum Party?
Powerful hashtags for campaigns
Rather than for brands or events, you can also create a hashtag to support your campaign. For Adrian Cockle, digital innovation manager at WWF International, it is clear that hashtags are an important mechanism to help the charity build momentum for its campaigns. However, using hashtags effectively for campaigning is not straightforward.
The challenge is to capture people’s attention, grab their buy-in and get them to use and share the hashtag. This way, the hashtag and its associated message spread its tentacles through the network. One particularly successful WWF campaign called for the Thai prime minister to make the trade in ivory illegal in the country: #killthetrade. Six months later, the prime minister was photographed accepting a petition from WWF of more than half a million signatures as part of her announcement on a ban on the sale of ivory products in the country.
Recent examples of powerful hashtags
Over the past year, we have seen some very powerful hashtags. Here is a list of some recent ones, so you can see the impact a hashtag can have:
25 powerful hashtags to increase your reach
The following hashtags may not have the same impact as the ones above but they still increase your online reach considerably. Wix.com has listed the 25 most popular ones. Only use these powerful hashtags if they are relevant!
- #BlackWhite – beautiful black and white photographs
- #Vintage – for posts with a retro flair
- #[season] – for seasonal thoughts and images
- #Inspiration – posts that move people
- #Weekend – everyone can relate
- #Digital – for trends, news or questions on tech and web culture
- #nofilter – when a killer photo shows off your skills
- #Fail – we all make mistakes
- #iCan – for motivational speech
- #TrueStory – Reality is better than any story, as long as you know how to tell it
- #Professional – fits so many different topics
- #Support – for offering or asking it
- #Makeover – what is new?
- #Empower – take an active stand
- #Knowledge – for sharing interesting information
- #Mobile – a pivotal aspect of the tech industry
- #Newsflash – Use it genuinely or satirically, both work
- #DIY – offer tips and tricks
- #TwoCents – your opinion matters
- #DailyTip – Information too good to keep to yourself
- #Classy – can describe almost anything
- #Hack – to make life simpler
- #Progress – even as a joke, progress is always something to aim for
- #Office – share highlights from behind your desk
- #Challenge – makes your posts more enticing
Hashtags gone wrong
Genevieve Crain describes the dark side of hashtags: “Hashtags connect people, ideas, businesses, and causes. What could possibly go wrong, right? Well, as with all things, there are those hashtaggers who choose the dark side. These people or businesses purposefully use a popular or trending hashtag even though it has nothing to do with what they are promoting. It is just another form of spamming. Delightful!”
She also describes another phenomenon: “Then there are the attention-seeking trolls or members of the public who use brand-generated hashtags to create viral bad publicity or to be snarky, destructive, and/or hilarious.”
Business2community.com says that the three brands below demonstrate prime examples of ill-planned hashtag marketing campaigns:
The most loved and hated fast food giant launched sponsored hashtag #McDStories in January of 2012, hoping to create a space for people to share special stories about Happy Meals. The innocent hashtag quickly morphed into #McDHorrorStories and other negative variations. Instead of sending positive feedback, people shared terrible stories about food poisoning and made allegations about the quality of McDonald’s food.
In November of 2013, JP Morgan sponsored the hashtag #AskJP to facilitate a question-and-answer session over Twitter. College students were invited to send questions to a senior executive who would be prepared to answer any and all questions. Users immediately began sending cynical, snide questions concerning the less-than-glamorous history of the bank.
Created in the spring of 2014, #myNYPD encouraged people to share uplifting stories about the NYPD and its recognized heroics. However, the Twitter world quickly began using the hashtag to send stories of police brutality instead.
Business2community.com, therefore, says “when Twitter users take control away from the company and transform the original intent, the results can be quite disastrous. Effective social media marketing requires proper planning. Marketing teams should develop emergency strategies for dealing with unwanted hiccups in the hashtag plans.”
Together with the #fail from Susan Boyle’s PR team, I hope you have enough examples that encourage you to think harder about the hashtags you use.
What can I do for you regarding powerful hashtags?
There is not much more I can help you with regarding powerful hashtags. However, hashtags are part of a bigger (social media) marketing campaign. That is where I can help you.
You have researched exactly who your customers are and you know how you can best reach them across a multitude of channels. Consequently, you have written high-quality content for them. Language is one of the techniques that marketing uses to make an impression on customers. It is, therefore, likely you will need your content (and hashtag) in more than one language. I am the owner of translation agency BudgetVertalingOnline, which offers affordable translations into English or Dutch. Would you like to get in touch? Send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org), send me a Tweet (@GdenHolder) or fill out the quotation form.
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