By some accounts, as many as 75 percent of Twitter users include hashtags in their tweets. While hashtags are popular, from a marketing perspective it helps to understand why and how to use them. This article outlines 10 ways merchants can use hashtags, along with guidelines for their use.
What Is a Hashtag?
A hashtag is a pound sign (#) that is used in conjunction with keywords or topics and is the way Twitter tracks conversations around a particular topic. For instance, if you search for the hashtag #socialmedia in Twitter, you can see any reference to social media from anyone that also used that hashtag.
Twitter’s platform recognizes hashtags and links to them, which makes it easy for others to join in the conversation around the topic.
10 Ways to Use Hashtags
- Monitor visibility. Hashtags can be used to monitor visibility on Twitter, which can be beneficial when keeping an eye on your company or your products. Hashtags can also be used to categorize your Tweets by topic or purpose.
- Advertising and promotions. Associate hashtags with advertising and marketing promotions, as this is a good way to begin a conversation around your products and services.
Large brands now incorporate hashtags in television commercials for that very reason. You can take a similar approach with your own advertising efforts, both online and offline. Consider creating a sales promotion or contest built around the use of a unique hashtag.
- Include on product description pages. Another way to use hashtags is to include them on product description pages on your ecommerce site and hyperlink them to Twitter. Again, this provides a tangible way to monitor conversations about your products and engage with those who use them.
- Track social media campaigns. While hashtags got their start in Twitter, other social networks including Instagram, Pinterest, Google+ and Tumblr now support them. Reportedly, Facebook may also start supporting their use. Therefore, hashtags could provide an easy way to track conversations about your social media campaigns.
- Build community. Hashtags can be one way to build a sense of community around your brand. Consider creating a hashtag using your company name, and then promote its use in your tweets from time to time. Also, encourage customers to tweet using the hashtag.
- Target users based on interest. Many Twitter users follow hashtags based on their interests. Tap into these conversations in order to get your brand and products noticed.
- Event marketing. Very often, hashtags are associated with events. Perhaps you’re attending a conference or hosting a special event and you want people to tweet about it. Create a hashtag that uses the first letters of each word in the event title. Let’s say you want host a customer appreciation day. Create a hashtag that includes your brand name accompanied by the letter “cap.”
- Trending topics. Search Twitter for trending topics that relate to your brand or products. This can be especially useful for merchants who sell fashion items such as jewelry or clothing.
Be careful not to associate them with news-related topics, however. Take as a case in point the recent Boston Marathon. What was meant to be an historic, fun event turned into a terrible tragedy. You certainly would not want a product-related tweet connected to that event.
- Follow Friday. One popular use of hashtags is through a common practice called Follow Friday (#FF), where users highlight others in their Tweets. For merchants, it’s a way to provide some approbation to loyal customers or vendors.
- Tweetchats. Many brands, organizations and industry groups use Twitter to host weekly chats. Here are a few examples:
- #LikeableChat – A weekly chat about social media topics.
- #adchat – A chat for advertising professionals to discuss design, strategy, and industry trends.
- #smallbizchat – This weekly chat provides helpful tips and advice geared toward small business startups and those that have been in business for less than five years.
There is no reason you couldn’t follow suit and start a weekly discussion with your customers.
TweetChat is a web app that makes following and engaging in a tweetchat easier. According to the site, you can regulate the speed of the chat, feature or block conversations, and you only need to enter the hashtag once and all of your posts will be automatically referenced with it.
Paper.li has a useful tutorial on how to start and run a tweetchat.
Guidelines for Hashtag Use
- Pick something memorable. Though you can use generic terms such as #socialmedia or #ecommerce, it’s better if you pick something unique that’s also memorable.
For example, Hershey’s created a site called “Cookie Headquarters” to serve as a baking resource for consumers and uses the hashtag #CookieHQ to organize conversations on Twitter.
- Keep it short. You only have 140 characters, so longer hashtags may take up too much space. Plus, they may be more difficult to remember, which could limit their use.
- Make it easy to spell. The easier a hashtag is to spell, the more likely it is to be used.
- Limit the number of hashtags. Don’t use too many hashtags, as that could be confusing and make the tweet difficult to read. Two is a good number, and certainly no more than three. Use them in the body of the tweet itself or append the hashtag at the end.
- Register your hashtag. Twubs.com is a hashtag directory site where you can register yours. In return, you receive a branded hashtag landing page, a moderated “Tweet to Screen” widget for use with live events, and a customizable feed that includes multiple hashtags.
Tony Ferraro, CEO of Twubs, says that hashtags have become more like trademarks or URLs that have the power to direct a crowd and organize conversations around given topics. Registering your hashtag makes sense because it provides you with a way to protect your brand’s value and keep others from hijacking it.
- Be careful about tying a hashtag to a specific event. The classic example is fashion designer Kenneth Cole’s use of the hashtag #cairo in 2011. The company incorporated this hashtag to promote its products at a time when there was much turmoil in that city. Unfortunately, this strategy did not work; it resulted in much negative press accounts about the brand.
Hashtags can be useful for organizing conversations around your brand and its products. Their thoughtful use can lead to more attention for your company, provide an easy way to promote products, and build a stronger customer community.