#Hashtags - tips and best practice advice

#Hashtags - tips and best practice advice

Hashtags can be used on all major social networks. They are a form of tagging that associates disparate pieces of content within an overall category. A hashtag, a word or phrase preceded by the # symbol (hash in Europe, pound key in the US), groups content together within the network where it is published. On many social networks these tagged words or phrases will be clickable, allowing users to access all content on that network associated with that word.

"your hashtag will be used by fans and followers to join a conversation about your product, service or event."

The hashtagged word can be used in a sentence or appended to it. For example, “For excellent #breadmaking tips, check out our Bakers’ Dozen of Tips today.” In order to be more relevant the hashtag #baking could also be appended to this content. A couple of points of hashtag etiquette:

  • Don’t use more than two hashtags in one update. More and your content can appear spammy.
  • Hashtags should be one word without spaces so “Celebration Cakes” becomes #CelebrationCakes. Note the use of capitalisation to assist the reader.

While hashtags pre-existed Twitter, it was on this social network that they really took off. Twitter responded to users using hashtagged words to group content by making the content clickable and a user friendly phenomenon was born.

As an individual responsible for promoting products or services, you too can use hashtags to associate your content with a general category or create specific hashtags to strengthen your brand and allow users to find your content easily.

For example if you are responsible for promoting a specialist flour for baking you might append #baking to your tweets, LinkedIn or Facebook Updates, Google+ posts, Instagram or Flickr images and Vine videos to name but a few. Consider being far more specific and using the brand name rather than a generic hashtag e.g. #SmithSuperFlour. If you are responsible for organising an annual celebrity bake off you might include #CelebBake13 to associated content. Clicking on any of these hashtags will allow users on the networks to access all updates associated with the product or service.

Therefore you can use hashtags to do the following:

  • Associate your product or service with a general category such as baking or cooking
  • Gather the content under one heading especially around an event or initiative e.g. #CelebBake13
  • Expose your brand to a broader audience: users might mention #SmithSuperFlour but not namecheck your brand itself in their update e.g. “Loving the bake on #SmithSuperFlour.”
  • To host a conversation around a specific subject usually with the word chat included e.g. #flourchat

“...the success of a hashtag is measured in its adoption.”

Tips and tricks

  • Check if your hashtag is already in use on your active social networks. A quick search will reveal if it has. You can search for hashtags across the majority of networks at Tagboard.com
  • Try to use something unique, simple and clear. Update the company information on the networks to explain or link to an explanation for the hashtag.
  • Define and promote it early so that it is your organisation’s decision about how the product, service or event will be branded. Otherwise the community will use their own hashtag in their online conversations. If a hashtag already exists, join the conversation by using the community’s tag but beware of hashtag spamming (see below).
  • Add the year if it will be associated with an annual event so that you can reuse in the future.
  • Define your hashtag clearly on your own site or blog. You can also add this definition on sites like Tagboard, Tagdef, Hashtag.org, or Hashtagify if you wish. However the first option will allow you to garner the traffic for your hashtag when people search for its meaning.
  • Remember to use the hashtag offline as well as on and include it in all printed materials and even on online material not normally associated with hashtags such as email marketing, site content and blogposts. This will add to the organisation’s ownership of that hashtag.
  • Monitor the hashtag. As Tagboard.com’s CPO says “...the success of a hashtag is measured in its adoption.” Therefore hashtag adoption and use is a great metric to monitor. Again Tagboard is a good option for this as it will pull content from networks beyond Twitter. Bearing in mind that Twitter sees the most use of hashtags consider services such as Tweet-tag.com, Hootsuite.com or Twitterfall.com to monitor Twitter in particular.
  • Respond where appropriate. As a general rule your hashtag will be used by fans and followers to join a conversation about your product, service or event. If they share helpful tips or uses be sure to retweet or reshare by way of thanking them for their insight. Please don’t bung up your fans' timelines with retweets and reshares of compliments though: self-praise, even indirectly, is no praise.
    It’s not uncommon for users to use a hashtag to draw your attention to an issue they are experiencing with your product or service. Respond politely, encouraging the user to allow you or a colleague to call or email them to deal with their issue. They may back down at this point or DM you their details to take it further. Your customer service policies should cover this eventuality.
  • Ignore hashtag spammers. It can happen that other commercial users, seeing the success of your hashtag, will insert their own content into your tagged stream. The best policy here is to take the higher ground. Your community may take it upon themselves to berate the spammer but if the problem persists either send a direct message to the spammer or report them as a spammer to the network. Ultimately if this does happen it generally means your hashtag has been extremely successful so give yourself a pat on the back.