Social media moves rapidly. So rapidly that even the most attuned social experts can be rendered obsolete by an extended digital detox. But a surprising number of people within the digital industry remain a little fuzzy on the nuts and bolts of what hashtags are and how to best use them on social. If you think that hashtags are only for Twitter, then you’re already a few years behind the pack.
If you’re feeling a little unsure yourself, why not take this opportunity to get up to speed on all things hashtag and discover how you can integrate them into your digital activity for better results.
What are hashtags?
A hashtag is simply a keyword phrase, spelled out without spaces, with a hashtag or ‘pound sign’ (#) in front of it.
You may have seen Campaign Capital’s Twitter feed use hashtags such as #PerthRadio or #wapol in posts. These hashtags essentially pool public conversation from all different users into a single-stream. This stream can be accessed by searching for a hashtag, clicking on one, or using a third-party monitoring tool. Note that in order for a post with a hashtag to appear in a search, the post must be made public.
When Twitter started a little over a decade ago, hashtags were seen as useful for the network for a number of reasons. They’re worked within the syntax of Twitter, they’re easy to learn, they’re flexible, and they worked with common user behaviour already in place. It also worked on mobile phones – back in the era of keypads, the hashtag was readily accessible, which was a big advantage.
Hashtags are often used to unite or connect conversations around things such as:
- Events or conferences, like #AusOpen or #SB51
- Disasters or emergencies, like #HurricaneSandy during the 2012 storms in New Jersey
- Holidays or celebrations, like #ausday (Australia Day)
- Topics of interest, like #CatsOfTwitter
- Popular social hashtags, like #tbt (throwback Thursday)
The key thing to keep in mind when approaching hashtags in your social posting is to use them sparingly and only when they add value to your posts. Use them too much and it can become confusing, frustrating, or annoying to your audience.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Hashtags
Do get specific: Try to target a specific interest that will appeal to an engaged community. The more specific you can get with your hashtag, the more targeted your audience will be, and a targeted audience translates to better rates of engagement. Taking a leaf from Instagram’s own tips for using hashtags, if you’re after Volkswagen lovers the hashtag #vwvan will earn you a lot more of your desired followers than #van will.
Do know your network: Hashtags function fundamentally the same across all social networks – they’re used for the purpose of content tagging and discovery. But the use of hashtags does vary between networks. For example, Instagram hashtags are more orientated around a description of the photo and the tools used to take it (#nofilter), whereas Twitter hashtags tend to focus on a topic of conversation or a group of people a post is trying to engage.
Don’t use your brandname as a hashtag: This is the biggest mistake I see constantly throughout my work in the digital space: businesses and organisations that know enough to try to use a hashtag but not enough to avoid using their own name. If a user doesn’t know your name or what you do, they’re not going to use that hashtag. Anyone who does click on that hashtag is just going to see a stream of your account posting and nothing else. Instead, find a slogan or phrase that relates to your organisation or subject area and go with that. Consistent usage of a non-name phrase will encourage usage in your audience, which you can encourage with likes, shares, retweets and build momentum around.
Don’t get complex: The optimal hashtag is the simplest. You want it to be memorable so that users will be able to recall (and correctly spell) your hashtag when they go to post. Where you can shorten without losing meaning, do so. Don’t try to fit every word in – there are diminishing returns on getting too specific. Ultimately, a successful hashtag is a hashtag people use.
Don’t forget to use restraint: You may have a bunch of great ideas for hashtags for a post or on a subject. It may seem like a waste to only use one of them. But you absolutely should exercise restraint when using hashtags. If you have more hashtags than actual words in your post, you’ve probably gone too far. You don’t need to hashtag everything. You’re going to dilute your engagement and often you end up attracting more spambots than actual humans.
Hashtags are a great way for your organisation to make an impression on a wide social media audience. When you use them well, you make great new connections and build your quality of engagement. So remember these tips, as well as our other advice for building your social following and embrace the possibility of hashtags for your social activity.
For further digital & social media advice, please contact Campaign Capital.
Campaign Capital affects change through quality public relations services. We support strategic communication with the community, government and media.