Hashtag has to be the most abused and misunderstood technology symbol ever. With the big 4 social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr) all using it, you would be forgiven for thinking about it only within the confines of social media. But the truth is that the symbol defined in unicode as U+0023 or pound sign is a rather “ancient” symbol made famous by its appearance on telephone keypads around the world. You can read more about its origin here.
Inevitably, with its popularity comes abuse. There are a lot of people out there who just don’t seem to understand how to use it. Some merely just copy and paste it in front of every word they type on Twitter. Others use it on prints and t-shirts just to make themselves look cool and in-the-know.
So what exactly is hashtag and how can we use it in today’s context? Here are some tips on how you can use it more effectively.
1) It is a tag
As the name applies, it is meant for organizing; To group a bunch of related things together. In social media lingo, it is used as a keyword to group all related conversations together so that it is easier to find later. So please don’t go hashtagging #all #your #words. I think it is safe to say that people will not be searching for a hashtag like #all. Searching for that will probably bring up results that are too broad to be of any relevance to you anyway.
2) Know your audience
Knowing what people are saying on social media will allow you to figure out which hashtags will get you the most attention. If everyone on Twitter is talking about #iphone6, any mention of that hashtag in your post will appear in the search feed. Of course, please do not intentionally use a misleading hashtag for the sake of traffic. This bait and switch tactic and people will call you out on it.
You may also want to test your hashtags to see if they are effective for your brand. Just because it is trending on Twitter doesn’t mean that it will work for you specifically. So do a lot of testing prior to your hashtag campaign.
3) Do not overdo it
Just because other people are doing it doesn’t mean that you should too. Tweets are increasingly getting harder to read these days as users started hashtagging every word. The same phenomenon is affecting readability on Tumblr and Facebook. Some people treat this behavior as hashtag spam and will unfollow or unfriend you. Users on social networks today do not like businesses that promote themselves too aggressively and excessive hashtagging will simply put them off. Typically you do not want to use more than 2 hashtags in your post or tweets. If you really need to use more than 2 hashtags, consider creating separate posts instead.
4) Be relevant and engaging
The biggest advantage of hashtags is that they allow you to join in the hottest conversations of the day. If you follow through with the second tip, you should already know how to discover trending topics and that should give you a hint on content that will resonate with your audience based on the popularity of the hashtags. It is really about creating stuff that people will care and share. Hashtags will also show how your customers are using your products and services. If you use a consistent hashtag for your products, you will be able to find and response to customer feedback without having to use social media listening tools.
In summary, hashtag is a really simple concept. It helps you organize, tag stuff and follow conversations on social media that may have implications for your brand. Use it appropriately and you may find social media more manageable and effective.