Anytime I think about hashtags, I think about Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake hashtagging the absolute crap out of an offline conversation. If you haven’t seen it, take two minutes out of your life to watch the beautiful disaster that is JT singing a hashtag of a Miley Cyrus lyric. Of course, the Late Night sketch was offering an amusing commentary about the overuse of hashtags. As marketers, we should take heed. When brands do hashtags right, the impact is incredible. But when they do them wrong? Yikes. Just ask the British singer who invited everyone to #susanalbumparty.
Quite simply, a hashtag is a searchable link comprised of a word or phrase typed with no spaces and preceded by a pound sign. It aggregates posts centered on a common topic, making it easier for likeminded people to have a conversation – or for brands to track engagement based on keywords. And just to clear up any confusion among the word geeks like me, hashtag is one word, even if your spellcheck doesn’t like it. #LanguageEvolves #OED
How hashtags work on different platforms
Hashtags started on Twitter in 2007 partly as a hack for users to get more out of the 140-character limit. They now work on almost every social platform – but not LinkedIn, so don’t use them there and appear foolish. Hashtags have exploded over the last decade because they work on all devices and don’t require users to learn any complicated new behavior. #Lazy They do, however, come with a few guidelines:
Twitter – Not surprisingly, Twitter is very hashtag friendly. You can search specific hashtags, and it gives you a handy-dandy “trends” sidebar full of hashtags that may interest you based on your tweets. Your audience here is primed for them. That said, don't use more than three in a tweet, or you may annoy your followers.
Facebook – Facebook only added hashtag functionality in 2013, and it hasn’t caught on with as much gusto. The feature works the same way in terms of search, though your followers’ posts have to be public for you to view when they’ve used your hashtag, which can make tracking tricky. In general, use no more than two hashtags per post.
Instagram – Instagram is basically hashtags galore! You can use up to 30 hashtags in a single post, and users are trained to click on these content-driven hashtags to find new accounts of interest to follow.
Hashtags also work on Pinterest, Tumblr and Google+ and you can even search them right in your browser. For super detailed guidelines, this Hubspot post is where it’s at.
Branded vs. trending
Want to use a hashtag? Great…but which one? Remember, hashtags benefit you by making sure you’re having conversations that matter with your target audience. Consider these different types and what they add before selecting:
Branded – This type is “owned” by your brand, meaning it’s not being used by anyone else. You might put your brand name it the hashtag, or you could use phrasing from a current campaign. These work best for events or fundraising. Think: #ALSIceBucketChallenge.The upside is that they belong to you. The downside is that no one is searching your branded hashtag unless you’ve effectively prompted them to.
Trending – These allow you to use trending topics to join a conversation, such as #DayWithoutImmigrants. Trending hashtags could also refer to the established hashtags that add personality to your brand. Think: #tbt, #MotivationMonday or #TGIF. Trending hashtags could even be general points of interest relevant to your industry. For example, WhiteSpace likes to use #agencylife when posting about our office antics. You can find trending hashtags here.
Hashtag best practices
Before you get out there and start hashtagging #allthethings, check out these quick tips:
- Keep it short
- Capitalize multi-word hashtags for readability
- Use your brand voice if possible
- Don’t leave yourself open to attacks (#McDStories)
- Research to make sure your hashtag isn’t associated with something dreadful
Still #nervous? We have some social media gurus on staff who are happy to help! Contact us with questions.
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