In Social Media

To hashtag or not to hashtag is not really even the question anymore. The questions are how? When? And How many? With a little guidance in that area, hashtags can be a powerful tool to promote your brand, engage your customers, and grow your business.

Putting a hashtag (a word or phrase – without spaces – preceded with the # sign) in your tweet or post is like adding a keyword or theme. That means anyone who searches for that hashtag (even someone who’s not already following you) will find it – and thus, find you!

Here are three ways to grow your business by mastering hashtags:

First, use hashtags in your posts

As noted, this makes your posts and tweets come up in searches. Think of this as contributing to a group conversation, since anyone searching for that hashtag will see all the posts using that tag. So before you start throwing hashtags in, make sure to research the ones you’ll be including. Ideally, you want to find popular hashtags, which are likely being heavily searched. Some popular or trending hashtags may be timely (news stories, current events), while others are constant (e.g. #throwbackthursday, #BarackObama).

When you use a hashtag, make sure it’s a topic you want your brand aligned with. If you pick hashtags just because they’re trending, at best you’re likely to just be lost in the sea of tweets, and at worst your business could be associated with themes that are contrary your desired brand image. Once you find some hashtags you’d like to utilize, craft a message that promotes your brand image and makes a connection between the topic and your products or services. For example, Digiorno Pizza jumped into conversation with the hashtag #TheSoundofMusicLive to joke, “I can’t believe pizza isn’t one of her favorite things.” After that night, maybe a few people started following DiGiorno, but you can bet many, many more remembered their subtly branded message.

Second, search relevant hashtags

See what your customers (and potential customers) are saying about topics related to your business. This gives you information about their preferences, habits, and needs, and gives you an “in” to respond (with the same hashtags) and join the discussion or showcase your expertise. Apps like Hashtagify can help you track and contribute to conversations easily.

And third, start your own conversations to engage customers

Create a new hashtag related only to your business, and have your customers chime in or ask questions. One option is to set up a chat, where people using that hashtag engage in a realtime discussion that you moderate or guide. Or you could start a contest where people have to use the hashtag to enter. Or simply utilize your own hashtag for ongoing engagement around a theme or event related to your business.

Remember to tailor your hastag and theme around what your customers want to talk about, not necessarily what you would like to talk about. If it doesn’t serve their interests or enhance their day, you won’t get a second look. Once you’ve decided on your hashtag, you’ll have to advertise it in some way to generate buzz and give people a reason to use the tag and join in.

Caveat: this option generates the most brand-specific buzz for you, but it can be like unleashing the Kraken. Once your hashtag is in use, you can no longer control the conversation. While you can’t booby-trap-proof yourself completely, try to think through ways your topic could backfire (like a McDonalds Twitter campaign that invited people to share their memories… which didn’t always turn out to be positive ones) and tailor it to skew toward positive engagement. Or at least be ready to keep your chin up and craft some witty, non-defensive replies.

Some hashtag basics

-While they don’t allow spaces, special characters, or punctuation, numbers are allowed, and you can use capitol letters to delineate words and provide clarity. In one popular example, there’s a big visual difference between #nbacontract (did someone say bacon?!) and #NBAContract.

-Don’t over-tag. One or two is fine, #every #other #word #is #overkill.

-It’s OK to be you! Be funny, show your personality. Give readers a sense there’s a human in there, not just a TweetBot.

-Hashtags are utilized in Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, and Google+.

-They can be placed anywhere in a post: within the message itself or at the end.

What’s one of your hashtag success stories?

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