Whether in a digital campaign, social media post or, most recently, even printed material, hashtags are one of the most used communication facilitators online.  They’re not really a novelty nowadays, but using them effectively can be quite the challenge if you don’t know exactly what they are and what they’re good for. That’s one reason why hashtags are being abused to the point of becoming an eyesore in quite a few posts.

Hashing out the hashtag

In order to effectively identify, define and use the hashtags that will afford your brand the visibility you’re aiming for, let’s hash out the hashtag.

What’s a hashtag

If you’ve spent more than 2 minutes online in the past 5 years or so, you will undoubtedly recognise a #hashtag. First used in 2007 in a blog post by Stowe Boyd (Source), hashtags are nothing more than labels that allow individual users to piggyback their content on platform-popular themes.

They are created organically by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, etc users and are meant to work as a magnet, drawing similar content from across each platform. Aggregating content that’s related to each other, hashtags are created every day.

Like Instagram’s #nofilter, some are adopted by wider groups as a topic they frequently post about, others relate to a campaign or current event, while quite a few are generated on a whim, find little support and promptly die off.

What’s it good for

Contrary to what some Facebook and Instagram posts might lead you to believe, the reason behind using a hashtag isn’t to horrify you with an unending list of highlighted, blue keywords, completely hindering your ability to read the content. A hashtag’s purpose is to make content discoverable; nothing more, nothing less.

This would be a really good time to remind you that social media posts have a quality score, if you will, based on which platforms determine who your post is relevant for and to what degree. One component of that equation is engagement, so the more people see your post but don’t interact with it, the less relevant the platform interprets it to be. Your hashtags should, therefore, be not only popular, providing your post with reach, but relevant to the people it reaches.

Hashing out the hashtag

You know all the competitor stalking business owners and managers love? Hashtags are the Q to your James Bond, helping you measure the effectiveness of their campaigns, providing insight into their online communication strategy and monitoring mentions. So don’t just use hashtags, monitor them.

Where do I get one

As mentioned before, you likely know at least a handful of hashtags just by being exposed to them day in and day out. If you want to expand your hashtag repertoire, there are more than a few online tools to help you discover new ones, and platforms themselves will let you know when new ones become popular.

Now, if you want your own, things get a bit more dicey. Because hashtags have to have a measure of popularity for them to be effective, setting one up and using it over and over, will only aggregate your own content. One way to boost their use is by asking your extended marketing team, namely customers and employees as well, for support.

Hashing out the hashtag

Make sure you define a hashtag that makes sense for the content you’re associating with. If you’re business is about healthy desserts you can go for something like #sugarfreeandhappy or #leancakes, and if you’d like to boost your brand’s visibility you can build one based on your brand’s motto like #PlayWithOreo.

Can I marry them to offline content?

The short answer is “sure”. The more realistic one is that, you can definitely use prints to raise your brand’s visibility online through hashtags in a very similar manner to the one you’re promoting your social media accounts at offline events. The trick is to define a single hashtag that helps you accomplish the same goals as the one why you’ve printed the material in the first place.

While you can use your offline promotional stuff to boost your hashtags visibility, you’ll have to be mindful of whether or not the people you’re handing out flyers to actually have accounts on those platforms. Early adopters and those who work in the online industry might take a hashtag on a print as a cue to discover what it’s about but most people need prompting so make sure you tell them what you want them to do with it and why.

The Bottom Line

Considering they’ve been around for almost a decade, brands aren’t doing so well when it comes to using hashtags effectively. The general tendency is to use as many as possible, as often as possible, without thinking about how relevant or useful they are.

When deciding what hashtags to use, try to remember what their purpose is and, in defining your own goals in posting a piece of content, select or create the ones that are popular enough to offer visibility but are specific and relevant enough to make your content stand out.

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