Social Media Hashtags – What, How, When, Why

Social Media Hashtags - what, how, when, why

Jimmy Fallon made waves recently when he got Jay Leno’s job on the coveted Tonight show. Fallon’s segment #latenight hashtags featuring #WhyDontTheyMakeThat and #HowIGotFired soon became trending tags on Twitter and contributed to his popularity. Social Media Hashtags are a powerful way to spread your message beyond your network allowing you to connect with a diverse demographic every day.

Hashtags as they are used now first became popular on Twitter some time in 2009 with #flight1549 and its miraculous escape. Many popular social networks like G+, Tumblr and Instagram are also allowing them now. Any term preceded with‘#’ – a hash or pound sign – becomes a hashtag and is used to group together messages around that particular topic. For the geeks, it is just like having a ‘group by’ clause in your query.

What is a hashtag?

Any term can become a hashtag, as long as you consider the textual limitations of microblogging sites like Twitter. It is an informal invitation for people to come together to discuss a certain topic. Using a hashtag for the discussion is like a grouping of several entries in a spreadsheet. Anyone who wants to jump on to the discussion can search with the term ‘#term’. They can then join the discussion by appending their message with ‘#term’. This ensures that their message is seen by people who are following that term.

Let’s say you attended the rose show put on by your local garden club. You would tweet ‘fantastic rare black rose. Loved it’ and append it with #puneroseshow. Now any of your followers might retweet this, or reply to your message, along with the embedded tag. Anyone who wants to comment will use the same tag and you will have a group of people who are interested in the rose show participating in an impromptu discussion. You might post photos on Instagram with a similar tag, prompting others to post more photos that they took. As more and more people join, your tag could go viral and become a trending hashtag on Twitter.

Twitter provides a list of trending hashtags for your region in the left sidebar and it is easily visible to logged in users.

Hashtags - what, how, when, why

An easy way to see a live example of hashtags in action is to pick a trending hashtag and read all the various messages people post for it.


How to use hashtags

It is easy enough to just add a ‘#’ sign before anything. But you need to think beyond that. It is easy to offend someone, either by piling on what belongs to them, or by spamming them with unwanted content.

Here are 5 rules to follow when using hashtags

1. Think of hashtags like salt in your diet. Use them sparingly. It is ok to use one or two in a message, but not more.
2. Don’t add hashtags to every tweet. Excess use makes you look desperate. You want to attract the right people. You don’t want to scare people away.
3. Don’t hijack popular hashtags. Search and review the use of a particular hashtag. Don’t piggyback and use it in some different context. This will anger people who are following the tag, and defeat the purpose of using it.
4. Keep it short. A tweet is 140 characters. Actually 120 if you want to leave some room for people RTing you to add a note. A hashtag can further reduce the length available for your actual message.
5. Use hashtags anywhere in your message. You can even add it to a word in a sentence. As long as every word is not a hashtag!

When should you use hashtags?

Hashtags are a way of announcing to the world that you have something to say on a certain topic. It could be the current breaking news, a restaurant you loved, a recipe you recreated, or a link to a whitepaper on your website.

Check these 3 examples of when to use hashtags

1. When you have an event such as a conference, webinar, or live podcast – #SoSlam used by Mark Schaefer is the latest example.

2. When you want to associate your brand with something you share regularly. An example is #TheSocialMaven used by Pam Lawhorne, or #youcandosocial used by Kim Garst.

3. When you want to share something related to an already existing topic. For example, #TWITTERTIP would be ideal if you want to share some nifty secret about using Twitter.


Why should you use hashtags?

Now we come to the crux of the matter. I hope that by now you have a fair idea of what hashtags are, how they can be used and some typical uses they can be put to. The question is, why should you, the business owner, care about them?

Here are five reasons every business owner needs to capitalize on hashtags –

1. Increased visibility – Hashtags are a great way to let people know what you care about. When I use #wordpress in any of my tweets, I am increasing my chances of being seen by anyone who is interested in WordPress or is searching for something related to WordPress.

2. Event promotion – You can create a hashtag around the weekly open house you have each week. As the word spreads, you will automatically increase your reach beyond your immediate network. You can also use this to generate interest in new or upcoming products.

3. Special offers or marketing tool – Used right, hashtags can be a unique way to increase the reach of your special offers. You can create a generic tag related to your business, and then create weekly or monthly offers using the hashtag.

4. Hosting group chats – A hashtag brings like minded people together and allows them to interact with the group that follows the tag. This leads to better engagement over a longer period of time with people who are already interested in what you want to say. Anyone across the world can participate giving you an inexpensive way to achieve a global reach.

5. Viral potential – This single reason itself is worth all the trouble. In the social world, everyone is striving to produce viral content, waiting for the day when they will strike it rich and produce a ‘Kolaveri Di’ or ‘Gangnam Rap’. It’s the same as dreaming about winning the mega million! Sound far fetched? Think of Jimmy Fallon again and how viral his late night hash tags are.


Hashtag 101

We saw what hashtags were, how you could use them, when it was best to use them and why every business owner should have them in his/her arsenal. If you’re up to the latest in social media, you have probably heard that Facebook is considering using hashtags too. Marketers are excited by the potential this will offer to all the businesses who have already invested a lot of time and money on their Facebook presence.

Have I convinced you to give hashtags a go? Are you already using them? Did you get some ideas here to use them in a better way? And how many networks are you using hashtags for? I would love to find out, so please feel free to leave a comment or email me.

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