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How to Use Hashtags in Social Media Marketing

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One of the great benefits of social media is the ability to reach a large audience at little cost. Using the popular hashtag notation, you can spread your brand, take advantage of popular trends, and get your message out.

Hashtags are a great way to promote your business. Learn how hashtags work, as well as how to use popular tools to assist you with reaching your audience through social media.

What’s a Hashtag?

The hashtag (#) has become a commonplace notation used to identify topics in social media.  According to Twitter, “the # symbol… is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages.”

When a hashtag becomes extremely popular, it can become a trend. Big events in news, sports, or entertainment tend to quickly generate heavy activity.

While the hashtag is the name of the symbol (#), the term ‘hashtag’ has come to refer to the topic it contains. Some hashtags are single words (#entrepreneurs), others are multiple words strung together (#nextbigthing); the key indicator is the # notation prior to the start.

Think of hashtags as you would an index to a book: if you wanted to find out how to cook lasagna, you would flip to a cookbook’s index to find the term lasagna.  If you wanted to use Twitter to learn about lasagna, you’d type #lasagna into Twitter’s search box.

You’ll find hashtagged terms within people’s Tweets. They are typically at the end, but can be embedded anywhere. Clicking directly on the hashtagged term displays all the Tweets about that topic.

When a hashtag becomes extremely popular, it can become a trend. Big events in news, sports, or entertainment tend to quickly generate heavy activity. When viewing Twitter on a computer screen, you’ll see trends listed on the left column of your home page.

Why Add a Hashtag to Your Tweet?

Typing a relevant hashtag into your Tweet will help readers find your message, even if they aren’t following you.  On any given day, an infinite number of hashtags are circulating, so using the right one is key to success.

On any given day, an infinite number of hashtags are circulating, so using the right one is key to success.

If you’re Tweeting about a big event – such as a conference – usually the organizers have designated a hashtag for people covering the event in social media. Look on the event’s web site or literature to find the appropriate hashtag.

Outside of a major event, the best way to find the right hashtag is to test out the term: type it into Twitter’s search box, and if it’s in use, you’ll pull up a list of related Tweets. The larger the list, the more popular the hashtag.

Another way to research is to use an analytical tool, such as hashtags.org. This allows you to view a hashtag’s analytics within a 24-hour period, as well as see a list of prolific users, related hashtags and posts using that tag.

For example, suppose you are announcing your new eBook, A Graphic Designer's Guide to Freelancing. You're looking to reach out to graphic designers with a book on helping them get started with freelancing, so you type '#freelancedesign' into Twitter’s search box to see if that hashtag is getting much attention.

Twitter will display a list of activity related to that tag. In this case, you'll notice the term ‘#freelancedesign’ isn’t very active.

Try can another term that potentially has broader appel, such as ‘#graphicdesign’. Twitter results will show that this hashtag is used by a much larger audience. Another option is to type the term into a tool, such as hashtags.org, which provides more detail. With the term #graphicdesign, you’d see a graphic similar to the following:

This tool will give you a quick idea of how popular this hashtag has been in the last 24 hours.

Creating Your Own Hashtag

Just like any marketing effort, you need to spread the word about your hashtag.

Anyone can start a hashtag and hope it gets picked up by users. This can be a great way to promote your business name (#Apple), brand (#ThemeForest), or new product (#GooglePlus). However, starting from scratch requires a consistent effort. Although there are stories about  hashtags that go viral instantly, it’s more likely that you’ll need to do some consistent work to help it pick up traction.

Just like any marketing effort, you need to spread the word about your hashtag. Use it whenever relevant, put it on your website, and include it in your company’s promotional materials. Re-tweet any tweets that use the hashtag, and invite your customers to use it to submit their stories or experiences with your product. Remain consistent, and over time your tag may get picked up.

Tips for Using Hashtags

According to hashtags.org, if you’re coming up with a brand new tag, use a term that is “catchy, short and concise, clear, and relatable - users see the value in using it”. More tips for successful hashtags:

  • Because of Twitter’s 140 character limit, keep your tag short: no one will use it if it’s going to eat up half their allowable characters.
  • Don’t be vague: if you’re hoping to attract owners of Collies, use the specific #CollieOwners rather than the general #DogOwners.
  • Be wary with acronyms. Aside from extremely popular terms (#DWTS, for the popular TV show Dancing with the Stars), acronyms can leave your reader in the dark.
  • Don’t overdo it. Twitter recommends no more than two hashtagged terms per Tweet. Think of your readers; it is difficult to follow a message that is riddled with # notations.
  • Be sure that every new Tweet you send with your hashtag has value for your readers. Avoid repetition, and don’t include the tag on completely unrelated Tweets.

Your Hashtag Media Stategy

Other social media outlets, such as instragram or Pinterest, use hashtags as a means of categorizing their content, so if you use multiple platforms, adopt a uniform strategy. With some research, you can come up with an effective, no-cost campaign to help spread your message to a wider audience.

What hashtags have you used for your industry? Have you had success creating your own?

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