It would be very difficult to browse posts on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, and Tumblr without coming across a hashtag or two. But what exactly are hashtags, and why have they gained such prominence on social media and in our culture? More importantly, why should online marketers harness the power of hashtags to fuel their social media marketing campaigns?
Hashtags are words or phrases without spaces that are prefixed with the “#” symbol. Twitter users first used hashtags to categorize content in 2007, and the practice has since spread to all the major social media sites. Facebook, the world’s largest social networking service with over a billion active monthly users, added clickable hashtags to its user interface on June 2013—making it the last major social networking service to adopt the practice.
While Twitter co-founder Evan Williams once stated that he felt that hashtags were “too nerdy” to ever go mainstream, the practice of using hashtags to create and track conversations has become both universal and “cool”. Online marketers can use hashtags to create a buzz, increase brand awareness, and engage their target audience.
Listed below are some tips that will help online marketers use hashtags more effectively in their social media marketing campaigns:
Create Unique and Appropriate Hashtags
Hashtags are a great way to connect with a target audience, especially during special events and webinars. Hashtags can also be used to encourage those outside the conversation to join in and participate. To create hashtags that facilitate social media engagement, companies should use hashtags that are unique, appropriate, and easy to remember.
A generic hashtag like #music could easily get lost in the millions of conversations that are going on simultaneously on social media, which in turn would decrease user engagement. Hence, it is best for online marketers to create more targeted and unique hashtags that increase user engagement and distinguish brands from their competitors. The hashtag for an upcoming music festival could be #summermusicfest2014 or #SMF2014, for example.
On the other hand, online marketers should choose their hashtags wisely. It is advisable to do some background research into the proposed hashtag to ascertain that no other companies or prominent personalities are using it. Entenmann’s once used the hashtag #notguilty to talk about their cookies when other netizens were using the same hashtag to tag conversations about a murder trial. This led to some confusion and charges of insensitivity, and the company had to issue an apology to the public for the mishap.
Use Hashtags to Facilitate User Engagement
Every business will have a different target audience, and testing should be done to determine how each group responds to hashtags. To identify the most suitable strategy, online marketers should experiment by making some posts without hashtags, some with hashtags, and others with hashtags along with links in the posts. Hashtags are a great way to draw attention to posts and can improve click-through rates (CTRs).”
Prioritize Social Media Platform Integration
As many brands now use several social media platforms to interact with netizens, they can use hashtags to streamline their social media marketing campaigns across all platforms. Some online marketers have managed to use hashtags creatively in their marketing campaigns. Southwest Airlines once ran a social media contest that allowed filmmakers to submit a short video entry by sending the company’s official Twitter page a tweet with a Youtube link to their entry. Their tweets were tagged with the hashtag #SWACinema. This hashtag was soon applied to their other social media accounts, including Facebook.
Use Hashtags Sparingly
We’ve all come across that annoying social media user who tags his Instagram pictures with 20 or more hashtags. While one or several carefully chosen hashtags can help brands achieve visibility on social media and garner new followers, a deluge of them could end up irritating the very people brands are trying to connect with. While the optimal number of hashtag varies depending on the topic or brand being promoted, it’s safe to say that one to three per post will suffice.
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