How's the Hashtag Doing?
Did you know the hashtag officially turned ten years old a few months ago? #TimeFlies! In tech years, being ten is . . . well . . . really, really old, especially without having any upgrades or new versions pushed out to users. In fact, being ten is ancient in tech years, so it’s only reasonable to ask if hashtags are still relevant and useful and whether they enhance your social media posts or not. Answering these questions is especially important if you’re using social media channels to grow your business.
A Great Idea
Once the property of Twitter, hashtags are now in use on all major social media platforms and are designed with a very specific and useful purpose in mind: to categorize conversations and allow social media users to find and follow these conversations easily. It works. We can find, follow, and participate in conversations based on hashtags. Want to know more about what’s being done to find a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease? Follow the #endAlz hashtag. Want to follow relief efforts after natural disasters? Find hashtags such as #HurricaneHarveyRelief. Want to have a discussion with other fans of #GameofThrones, #StarWarsBattlefrontII, or #ThisIsUs? There are hashtags for that, too. Searching for hashtags people are using is pretty intuitive on social media channels, but if you want instructions for hashtag searches and examples of what hashtag search results look like, HubSpot walks you through “How to Use Hashtags on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram.”
Though designed for cataloguing social conversations, people just can’t resist putting our individual creative touches on our posts. We know you’ve got at least one friend who’s always posting the longest hashtag you’ve ever seen—one that doesn’t make any sense and that no one really understands. #NotCool. Yes, we’ve hijacked the goal of the hashtag. Instead of using hashtags for their intended purpose, we’ve hijacked their usefulness for our own attempts to be creative and funny, and that’s actually called the usefulness of the hashtag into question. If hashtags are often used incorrectly or over-used, can they still be relevant? Can we still use hashtags effectively for marketing purposes? Or have hashtags now become more of a novelty?
Pros and Cons
If you’re an entrepreneur or small business owner who’s using social channels to boost awareness of your brand and bring new customers your way, you’ll want to know when and where to use hashtags and how to use them appropriately (we’ve got some helpful tips below). The first thing to remember is that not all social media platforms are used in the same way. What gets traction on Twitter might not work as well on Facebook, for instance. Users behave differently on each social media channel. Unfortunately, even many professionals who want to use social media to boost their brands don’t fully research or understand the platforms.
Leading marketing authority Gary Vaynerchuk also says many people miss the whole point of social media. His advice is to “Ride the Hashtag, Don’t Create It.” Vaynerchuk insists that “Social media is the first true listening platform, not speaking platform,” and he explains how paying attention to what’s trending on social media and participating in that conversation will pay much bigger dividends than trying to develop a creative hashtag and conversation of your own for people to follow. That advice is coming from someone who has a huge following with one of the most successful hashtags out there: #AskGaryVee. Most of us simply don’t have that type of influence, but when you participate appropriately in conversations that can bring awareness to your business products and services, then you’re doing it right.
Here are some pros to using hashtags in your social posts:
- Hashtags give you a seat at the table for that particular topic.
- Hashtags can get you and your brand noticed.
- Hashtags can create a community discussion.
. . . and here are some of the cons:
- Hashtags can be annoying or distracting.
- Hashtags can be perceived as spam.
- Hashtags may need their own marketing plan to be effective.
Hashtags are still relevant both to social media users and as a marketing tool, but in order to achieve the marketing results you want, you must use them appropriately. Knowing when, where, and how to use hashtags is key to getting positive results. For instance, you should be aware that although you can use hashtags on Facebook, you might actually have lower user engagement with a hashtag than without.
A HubSpot infographic on hashtag use illustrates helpful data for making decisions about using hashtags as part of your social media marketing activities. Data showed that Facebook posts without hashtags fared far better than those with hashtags. Data also showed that there’s a distinct difference between the response to an individual’s and a brand’s use of hashtags. Though both individuals and companies can use hashtags for increased post engagement, a company’s use of hashtags will see only half the increase that an individual user will see. That could be because brand use of hashtags seems more like spam and an attempt to push sales rather than a more genuine interpersonal conversation. Meanwhile, Twitter users expect to see hashtags in posts, and Instagram users expect to see loads of hashtags in posts. Using up to two hashtags when you tweet can generate higher audience engagement for that post, but using more than two hashtags can decrease audience engagement on Twitter. In the world of Instagram, though, be prepared to hashtag away. Instagram posts that perform really well include about 11 hashtags!
In addition to knowing when and where to use hashtags to get the biggest benefit, you’ll also want to follow these common-sense rules regardless of the social media channel you use:
- KISS—Keep it Simple, Sweetie! Hashtags need to be simple yet specific enough to be valuable as a sorting tool. After all, if you want people to find your posts about a specific topic or join your conversation, you have to be specific. Consider the difference between these two hashtag examples: #Atlanta and #ZooAtlanta. The first example is generic and not really helpful if you want to provide a narrow and searchable category, but the second example will help people find others talking about their experiences at Zoo Atlanta.
- Don’t overdo it! But do think it over! Keep the number of words to a minimum, and use capital letters to distinguish the words and make the hashtag easier to read. Think, think, and think some more, though, about how your hashtag could be misinterpreted and take on an entirely different meaning from what you intend. Often, when words are combined without spaces, people read the letters together in different—and sometimes embarrassing—ways. If you’re jumping on the bandwagon and using a trending hashtag, do your research and make sure you know what the original hashtag means. If you need examples of what works and what doesn’t, Social Quant has compiled examples of some great and not-so-great hashtag campaigns.
- Be consistent! Hashtags can be a great way for local businesses to promote special events or festivals in their area, but be sure you’re using and promoting the hashtag created for the event. If there’s not an official hashtag, gather several businesses together to develop a consistent hashtag to use. That way, everyone is literally on the same page. Otherwise, you may have various hashtags promoting the same event.
- Be relevant! Don’t add a random hashtag to a post simply to get attention. Make sure the hashtag you use is relevant to the post and the discussion. Otherwise, it’s spam, and nobody likes spam.
- Promote the hashtag! If a hashtag can be helpful to your business, consider promoting the hashtag in an off-digital marketing campaign. You can place reminders about hashtags that promote your business or special events in print materials such as event programs, handouts, menus, billboards, or any other avenue that can encourage their use and draw more attention to your business.
We believe the hashtag has aged well. It’s still a useful tool for many marketing efforts; however, keep in mind that not every social media post needs a hashtag. Don’t try to make a hashtag fit every scenario. If it’s not helpful and relevant, why use one? Be mindful of the tips above as you’re planning and implementing your social media marketing strategy, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a hashtag pro.