There’s probably no easier way to tell a digital native from a digital naïve than their ability to use the hashtag. Trying to use hashtags when you don’t understand them sounds as natural as cursing in another language.
Whether it’s during Q&A at social media events, in the comment sections of other posts, or in emails, I’ve fielded a lot of questions about how to use hashtags in social media.
Wikipedia defines the #hashtag as:
Using hashtags to categorize Tweets by keyword: People use the hashtag symbol # before a relevant keyword or phrase (no spaces) in their Tweet to categorize those Tweets and help them show more easily in Twitter Search. Clicking on a hashtagged word in any message shows you all other Tweets marked with that keyword.
Why use a #hashtag?
There are a number of reasons why you want to use hashtags in social media.
Hashtags help you get found by your target audience. Many people do research by searching on specific hashtags. By using the hashtags that are of interest to your ideal customer, you can increase the chances of being found.
Hashtags improve your clickthrough rates. According to research from Buddy Media, tweets with hashtags receive twice as much engagement as those that don’t. Put another way, you can double your engagement and increase clickthrough rates by including hashtags. Interestingly, there does seem to be an upper limit. Tweets with more than two hashtags saw engagement drop by 17%. Perhaps because too many hashtags look spammy. This research is for Twitter; there doesn’t seem to be the same bias on Instagram.
Hashtags are great for research. If you are doing research, it’s easy to find great, relevant content by search on specific hashtags. I’ve found that tweets with hashtags are generally more focused on a topic than a tweet that just mentions the phrase.
Hashtags become links to search queries. So, while someone might click your hashtag and take them to a search query, at the same time, that search is garnering a lot more views, and will lead more people to see your post.
Hashtags can be used for humor. The hashtag is the social media equivalent of the aside or rimshot. While this may not help you get found in social media, it can certainly show your personality and help engage (or repel) your audience.
The dangers of hashtags
Hashtags have been known to get some brands into trouble.
Look before you leap. It’s a common tactic to piggy-back on trending hashtags to gain visibility in social media.
Recently, DiGiorno Pizza jumped on the hashtag #WhyIStayed, not realizing that it was being used to discuss domestic abuse.
While they did a good job of apologizing profusely, there’s no denying damage was done to their brand. That’s just one of hundreds of examples of brands not looking before they leap when it comes to trending topics.
Going too broad with hashtags. While a broad hashtag may seem like casting a wide net, chances are broad terms will either not be searched on, or your tweet will be lost in the shuffle.
So here is a handy tool…
The hashtag generator. Before you click the link, here are the benefits of using the generator: whatever hashtag you throw at it, it will show if a hashtag is already in use, by who and can show you the conversation thread to follow. It also shows you alternatives or related hashtags you could consider to use. So if you want to generate an effective hashtag quicker – and be fairly sure that you are not navigating into rocky waters, give the hashtag generator a go.