By now we’re all familiar with hashtags. We’ve searched hashtags, experimented with using them and laughed about the ways they can be overused. However, if you’re only viewing hashtagging as a quirky social media gimmick, you’re missing out on exposure for you and your brand.
According to Jay York, a senior digital marketing strategist for EMSI Public Relations, your goal on social media sites like Twitter or Instagram should be to become part of the conversation. Hashtagging allows more people to find your contributions to that conversation.
“Let’s say 1,000 people follow you on Twitter,” says York. “Not counting re-tweets, only 1,000 people will see your posts if you don’t use a hashtag. Add the hashtag, though, and you start picking up momentum because the post has the potential of being seen by, and re-tweeted by, any number of people. A common hashtag, such as #love, can position your post to be seen by potentially millions of people.”
York also warns that along with the great benefits of hashtagging, there are also pitfalls.
“Hashtags don’t come with exclusivity,” says York. “Anyone can use them, so a hashtag can become a weapon that works both for you and against you. Critics of your brand, or just the usual assortment of Internet trolls, may attempt to hijack your hashtag, putting you or your business in a bad light.”
To demonstrate a brand’s hashtag gone wrong, York sites a situation that occurred a few years ago when McDonald’s introduced #McDStories on Twitter. The hashtag went viral, but not in the flattering way that McDonald’s had hoped. The Twitter world had a field day, tweeting negative stories of alleged bad experiences with the restaurant.
While it’s good to be aware of this sort of negative potential, such tales should not deter you from utilizing and benefitting from hashtags. York offers three tips for using hashtagging to promote yourself and your brand.
1. Use proprietary hashtags. “One of the advantages to a proprietary hashtag, such as ‘Orange is the New Black’s’ hashtag #OITNB, is that it is linked directly to your brand. These hashtags typically are not used as widely as a more generic hashtag, but the goal is to brand yourself through the hashtag with the hope it could go viral.”
2. Don’t overdo it. “A post littered with too many hashtags can be difficult to read, so your message might become obscured as your followers see what appears to be gibberish. Perhaps you saw the skit Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon once performed in which they spoofed the device’s overuse by lacing their spoken conversation with seemingly endless hashtags. It was hilarious and annoying all at the same time.
Twitter itself suggests using no more than two hashtags per Tweet. Certainly, three should be the very maximum on Twitter. A different etiquette exists on Instagram, though, and most Instagram followers will tolerate excess hashtags. Meanwhile, although hashtags can be used on Facebook, there’s little reason to include even one. That’s not the way people use that social media site.”
3. Think geographically. “If you are a local company that depends mainly on local clientele, a hashtag that links to your location works well. Hashtags such as #Seattle or #Bangor drop you into numerous conversations about your hometown.”
“A hashtag may not look like much, but it’s really a powerful tool that is a double-edged sword,” says York. “If used correctly it can greatly bolster your marketing reach. Used incorrectly, it can have adverse effects or unintended consequences. With social media, your hashtag is your brand, so use it wisely.”