In June 2013, Facebook announced the introduction of a terminology that had formerly been exclusively part of the Twitter world — hashtags. Many of my Facebook connections who were familiar with them from Twitter were excited by their arrival. Other people who had only dabbled in Twitter responded to the news with scepticism. But most of the comments I read on Facebook expressed mystification. What ARE hashtags? What do they mean? How do you use them? Why should we bother?
If you’re among those who don’t use hashtags, here’s a quick overview.
A hashtag is a word or group of words preceded by a ‘hash sign’, i.e. #. There can be no spaces between the hash sign and the word/term, and there can be no spaces in between words if you are using more than one word. When you put together a tag in this way, it automatically creates a clickable link. If people click on the hyperlink, they will find all the most current Tweets or Facebook posts from anyone who has used that tag.
So making a hashtag is easy. Just put a # sign in front of anything and you’ve made one. But knowing what makes a good hashtag and how to utilise them correctly needs some know-how. Here are five fundamental and effective ways to use hashtags on both Twitter and Facebook.
STRATEGY 1: FOLLOW CURRENTLY TRENDING TOPICS
Perhaps the most typical use of hashtags is to follow news about a story that’s developing in the moment. Trending topics tend to be about entertainment or breaking news (example: #Wimbledon #XFactor). Sometimes they have to do with a natural disaster, such as Hurricane #Sandy in 2012.
Clicking a link on trending hashtags will give you a list of related comments and new reports. This can often supply you with a great resource of relevant information on specific topics in which you may be interested.
STRATEGY 2: CONNECT WITH PEOPLE INTERESTED IN SPECIFIC SUBJECT
While some hashtags relate to transitory ‘trending’ topics, others are on long-term subjects of interest. One example is the hashtag #SocialEnterprise or its more commonly used abbreviated version #SocEnt. It seems logical to assume that people using this hashtag are interested in the subject of social enterprise. So if you’re interested in social enterprise and you’re looking for new, relevant connections, just click the hashtag and you should be able to find loads of them.
STRATEGY 3: CREATE A BRAND IDENTITY
If you’re a business owner, it’s valuable to make a hashtag that distinguishes your brand. If you’re in the media, you can create hashtags for titles of books, radios shows, magazines, films, newspapers or television programs.
While the apparent advantage of making a brand hashtag is that it reinforces brand identity, the more powerful advantage is that if people click the hashtag they will find all the Tweets and updates you OR your customers and fans have posted about your business. This means people can immediately find out more about your company or product without even having to go to your site. And, of course, if your updates include links to your website, they might check them out if their interest is aroused.
STRATEGY 4: CREATE A HASHTAG WIDGET ON YOUR WEBSITE
After you’ve created a brand hashtag, you can use it to your advantage by installing your hashtag stream onto your website, blog or sales page using a ‘Twitter widget’.
To create a widget for your hashtag, log into your Twitter account, and click ‘options’, ‘settings’ and then ‘widgets’. Create a new widget for your company hashtag (be sure to use the #). This dynamically updated widget will display all Tweets (not just your own) that are using your hashtag.
This tactic can kindle the interest of your web viewers, so they want to find out more about your product, your book or whatever is being promoted. It also makes the topic feel vibrant, as visitors see real-time updates around this subject.
STRATEGY 5: TRACK AN ONLINE MARKETING CAMPAIGN
Without a doubt the most helpful use of hashtags for online marketers is tracking and analysis. Whenever I am setting up a promotional campaign for one of my clients, I set up a distinct hashtag for that occasion. To be effective and accurate, this hashtag has to be prepared with care, so it is not likely to be already in use for other purposes by someone else. For instance, to ensure uniqueness when using a hashtag to track one of my book launch clients, I often take a keyword from the book title and integrate it with the date of the launch (e.g.: #AlchemyJan23).
Note: Hashtags are NOT case-sensitive, but using upper and lower case can make them less complicated for your followers to read and identify.
Uniqueness is important, but try not to become too cryptic in creating tracking hashtags. I’ve seen some hashtags that are as confusing as a secret code, giving me no clue as to what I’ll find when I click the link. I think this is a missed opportunity to bolster brand identity. Spend some time and care to make your tracking hashtag a really good balance between length, keywords, brand and uniqueness. Always make sure to TEST your hashtag before using it, to see if other people are using the same tag for a different purpose.
TRACKING YOUR HASHTAGS
Using hashtags to track your promotion is simple, but the methods for Facebook and Twitter are not the same.
For Twitter, you can quickly track your campaign by creating a column (stream) for it in an application like HootSuite or TweetDeck. This enables you to monitor which of your promotional partners are Tweeting the most often, and which Tweets are getting the best response in people’s favourites, comments and ReTweets.
For Facebook, the best method for tracking your campaign is to enter the hashtag (always remember the # sign) into the search on top of your Facebook page. This way, you can view the most recent updates by you and your partners that mentioned your hashtag, and see how many likes, comments, shares, etc. they are receiving. You can make comments on posts by your fans and partners, and take part in conversations you might not have discovered had they not used your campaign hashtag.
DON’T GO OVERBOARD
There are a few important things you should keep in mind when using hashtags:
— Overuse of hashtags might be really irritating to your friends and followers. I see some people add them at the #beginning #of #every #word. This is just plain pointless.
— Overuse of hashtags can occasionally get your Tweets filtered from search results on Twitter. I’m not sure about Facebook.
— Some folks try to get ‘noticed’ by pilfering other people’s hashtags, or by squeezing popular but irrelevant hashtags into their Tweets. On Twitter, this is very likely to get your account suspended. Again, I have no idea about Facebook as it’s early days, but I hope they have a similar policy.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
Call me a geek, but I love hashtags. I welcome the introduction of hashtags on Facebook and see them to be a great example of how two different systems cross-feed one another and make a better product.
Whether you have used them before or not, I encourage you to dive into them. Be courageous. Be creative. Use hashtags with confidence. Have a blast with them.
But always be an ethical marketer by using them correctly, respectfully and wisely. This way, hashtags will work FOR you, not against you.