You may call it a pound sign but the next generation will likely only know it as a hashtag.
The Hashtag phenomenon is taking the internet by storm. Once used exclusively on Twitter to categorize topics more efficiently, today it has evolved into a global icon. Search engines, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and Google+ are all using the hashtag and tracking hashtags.
In today’s article we will take a closer look at why this little pound symbol is creating such a storm and discuss how you can start using hashtags in your marketing campaigns and branding.
So what is a Hashtag?
Have you seen # littered throughout posts on social media? That’s a hashtag! Hashtags are a word or phrase prefixed with the number sign. Examples of popular hashtags are:
#dwts (dancing with the stars)
#tbt (“through back Thursday” – a hashtag used on Thursdays when people post a picture from their past)
You can visit http://www.hashtags.org/trending-on-twitter/ to see what hashtags are popular at any given time and to see a full directory or dictionary of existing hashtags.
What does the Hashtag Do?
Essentially the hashtag is used to identify or tag messages on a specific topic.
Conceived in 2007 by Chris Mesina to help organize the jumble of tweets on Twitter, the hashtag allowed users to create, find and engage in conversations relating a specific topic of interest in real time. By placing the (#) symbol in front of the keyword or phrase, the user or searcher then is linked to everything that involves the word.
Because the hashtag categorizes in real-time, it allows analytics to track what is “trending”, shared and getting talked about. It is this analytic potential that has industries racing to implement the hashtag into their marketing content and corporate branding.
Optimizing with the hashtag opens the door to audiences from multiple media platforms who share a common interest in the message you are sending.
Examples of how hashtags are used in real life
Here are three basic examples to get you thinking about how hashtags can be used.
1) Events – often conferences will assign a hashtag to the entire event (ex. #smxwest) or to individual sessions so that everyone in attendance can give their feedback, ask questions of the speaker in real time and so that people not in attendance can follow the events.
2) Campaign Promotions – a restaurant or airline may create a hashtag for their guests to use to tag all their photos or stories about their experiences.
3) Branding – many big and small brands create a branded hashtag (ex. #Target or #Chipotle).
Where can you use hashtags?
Hashtags are used across many social platforms including:
- And many more!
What do hashtags have to do with Web 3.0 (the “Semantic Web”)?
The hashtag is now firmly established as a linked data identifier in the online experience, and is the driving force behind the new web – semantic web or web 3.0. What does that mean?
Hashtags help search engines understand what is trending, who likes the topic, where a topic is most popular, when topics are most popular and even why a topic or brand is most popular… in real time. This helps in the analysis of people’s feelings and is a huge leap toward semantic analysis in the web environment.
In fact Google+ stream now assigns hashtags to posts automatically, says MarketingLand.
How do I create a Hashtag?
All it takes is # in front of a word and you have a viable hashtag.
Visit the official hashtag creator at hashtag.org. You can register your hashtag to claim it as part of your brand. You can also do a search for your hashtag on Twitter, G+, Instagram and other accounts by doing a search within their platform – or you can just search “#yourhashtag” on Google.
Remember that no one owns a hashtag and anyone can potentially attach ‘your’ hashtag to their own comments, opinions or pictures – whether it be the good, bad or ugly.
Hashtag Best Practices and Rules
The hashtag is based on simplicity and has a simple set of rules:
- The best hashtags have shown to be short and to the point. Keeping it to a maximum length of 6 characters using only numbers and letters as the keyword tends to make the most impact.
- Don’t use special characters, hyphens or dashes. This will just cut off the rest of your phrase similar to how a period divides sentences.
- Don’t use spaces. If you are using two or more words, leave out the space. For example the hashtag for following a fundraiser would be #RunforLife as opposed to $ Run for Life.
- Put words first, then use numbers to categorize recurring events. Hashtags like #2014Learning won’t get the recognition you want, whereas #Learning2014 will direct all traffic regarding 2014 learning trends to your posts.
How to make your hashtag worthwhile.
Give as much thought to your hashtag and its popularity as you do to your business name and marketing focus. Here are a few rules to follow that will make your hashtag experience pay.
- Check if your hashtag is new or if it is trending at Search.Twitter.com or #hashtag.org. If you find an existing conversation that is not in the direction you want to go, then find something that is equally targeted but not as frequently used or is trending in the direction your want to go.
- Avoid sentiment. The public doesn’t like words like love or hate used to sell them on politics or trivia – many who have tried have failed. Always make sure there is really a following for the topic in the sense of the emotion you use.
- Use your Brand or Industry keywords – Brands and popular industry terms do well in relatable traffic. Using Brand endorsements to trigger search user conversation is a great way to stimulate traffic. For instance, you have a sports jersey retail store and want to sell more product. Using #HockeyJerseys may not be actively searched, but with the NHL Playoffs in full swing, micro bloggers will jump into anything “hockey” and create massive conversations around your simple hashtag.
- Be careful where you use your hashtags – Stay away from controversial hashtags to market product lines. Also be aware of hashtag hijacking. Have a backup plan to deal with offensive tweets or hashtags not going the way you planned.
How to Harness the Hashtag Phenomenon
Hashtags have the ability to help marketers to make real time connections. The question is, how do you incorporate them into your marketing campaign? You cannot just sprinkle hashtags willy-nilly throughout your pages.
- How your followers use hashtags. You need to find out how people are using hashtags and what will prompt them to follow yours. Check out what is trending and brainstorm how you can target the keyword hashtags.
- Know when to post. Twitter reports engagement for brands are 17% higher on weekends, yet only 19% of brands bother to utilize this huge potential.
- Get the right number of hashtags. Posts with one to two hashtags show a 21% higher engagement than those with none and a 17% drop in engagement with more than two hashtags.
- Ask for attention. Those who ask to be shared or retweeted, get – those who don’t get nothing. The statistics show a 12X increase in sharing and referral by simply asking for it.
- Get your content right first. Produce quality, relevant content that will create followers. Make your blogs and site articles highly informative, entertaining and applicable to your hashtag.
The power of the hashtag is growing exponentially. Have you found a way to cash in?
If you would like to build a campaign using the hashtag to advance it, contact our experts by email at email@example.com. We can help you define marketing goals and optimize your online outlets.