Mastering The Art Of The Hashtag


Mastering The Art Of The Hashtag

At one point, the symbol # replaced the word “number” or indicated a note one-half step higher in music. However, in social media, users have adopted this sign as a way of linking tweets, posts, and pictures together. If your business plans to enter the world of Twitter—or most other social media websites nowadays—you need to get a grip on this little symbol.

Start with our guide to all things hashtag, and find out much four lines can change your business.

Hashtags—What Are They Good For?

When you scroll through Facebook, you may have seen your 15-year-old niece leave a bunch of hashtags after her status update. You don’t have to be as hashtag happy as younger online users, but this popular punctuation mark does serve many purposes—even for companies.

To Connect Users to Trending Topics

Since the beginning, hashtags have always accomplished one thing: they take millions of individual tweets and form them into conversations. On any platform, you can click on a hashtag and see other messages using the same hashtag.

Look to the left of your Twitter profile or the right of your Facebook newsfeed to see what’s trending. And now I just realized it’s #NationalCatDay.

To Capture Live Events

While you’re watching your favorite TV drama, you may have noticed a small hashtag in the corner of the screen (like #Empire or #SharkTank). No, something isn’t going wrong with your normal broadcast. Networks promote these hashtags to encourage conversation about their shows as the action’s happening.

Some shows even highlight specific episodes or moments. The Walking Dead hyped up the new season with #TWDPremiere, and Scandal asks fans to guess what happens next with hashtags like #WhoIsTheMole and #WhoShotFitz.

Similarly, businesses can use hashtags to show what’s happening within the company and humanize their image. Are you attending a conference? Find the hashtag everyone is using, and post quotes or your takeaways from the panels. Are you hosting a holiday party? Create a hashtag, so your employees can post pictures or videos of the event.

To Invite Stories and Experiences

To explain this approach, let’s consider Jimmy Fallon, the late-night host with the most, or at least the largest social media following. Every week on The Tonight Show, Fallon presents a hashtag like #MomTexts or #ThatWasStupid, which inevitably starts trending worldwide. These hashtags prompt viewers to submit their hilarious stories like the following:

From @fancypantsLATX: One year, I got the book “He’s Just Not That Into You” from FIVE different people. Message received. #worstgiftever

From @c_walk: The chant in Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Starting Something” as “I’m ashamed of the side of my moccasins.” #misheardlyrics

From @katebowers: Every morning I’d wake up and find a Polaroid picture on my chest of me sleeping #MyRoommateIsWeird

With this aspect of hashtags, you don’t have to come up with any content beyond the hashtag itself—you rely on your followers to submit engaging comments and stories. For example, Travelocity employed this principle with the hashtag #IWannaGo, so followers would reveal their dream destinations.

To Attract More Attention

On a search results page, which are you more likely to click: the result with merely text or the result with an image, pricing information, and star ratings? Hashtags make your tweets stand out in a similar way. RadiumOne reported that more than 70% of consumers are willing to explore new content when that content contains a hashtag. Now that people regularly use hashtags, content feels a little bare without them.

To Give an Aside

In my personal life, I’ve noticed that people often use hashtags like a parenthetical statement or some joke they mutter to themselves after the actual comment, like #kidding or #spoketoosoon. These hashtags are not meant to connect conversations, but they could still help businesses show more personality.


Create Your Own Hashtags

If you want the benefits above, start a hashtag and inspire more discussion about your company or products. Some companies use their own company name (e.g. #Oreo). But more often, they use hashtags with company slogans (e.g. #MakeItHappy, #ThisIsHowWeBoost) or calls to action (e.g. #PutACanOnIt).

When you create a hashtag, remember to:

  • Write it as one word. Spaces, punctuation, or other special characters break the hashtag. Most people use lowercase, but you can capitalize words if the capitalization improves readability.
  • Check whether someone could misread your hashtag. In Switzerland, whose official country name abbreviates to CH, a marketing team decided to use the hashtag #hobbitch to advertise the new Hobbit A little foresight could have prevented unintentional swearing.
  • Use the same tone as your other marketing initiatives. DiGiorno—you know, that brand of pizza you pop in the oven when you don’t feel like cooking—created the hashtag #DiGiorNOYOUDIDNT. That funny, clever voice wouldn’t work everywhere, but it did in this case.

Not every hashtag will take off, but keep trying! Invite others to use the hashtag through a tweet or post, and if a hashtag does stick, use it on flyers, on billboards, or in your other marketing efforts.

Engage and See What Customers Say About You

Encourage the people who use your hashtags. Like, favorite, or reply to those posts. Rather than contact you directly—by posting in your Facebook group or adding your username to a tweet—users may use one of your hashtags when they want to say something about your company. Listen, and respond if a customer gives you feedback or experiences an issue.

Start a Series of Content

If you plan a series of similar posts, link those posts with a hashtag. At Boostability, we have a few ongoing hashtags, such as:

  • #SocialTip—tips on improving communication, especially through social media
  • #BoostJams—themed music playlists from employees
  • #BoostForThought—questions to ponder

This method helps customers anticipate and become excited about the next item in the series, and it gives some leverage to your previous content. If your customers like one post, they can find every other post in the series by clicking on the hashtag.

Use Other Hashtags Relevant to Your Industry

Twitter processes 2.1 million search queries every day. While far from Google’s 3.5 billion searches per day, this statistic shows that a fair amount of users turn to Twitter to learn more about the world around them. And similar to search engine optimization, you can include keywords to make sure the right people find your content. Hashtags are those keywords.

If you work in real estate, use hashtags like #realestate, #realtor, #justlisted, or #househunting. If you work in a restaurant, use hashtags like #whatsfordinner or #yum. Search on Twitter to see which hashtags industry leaders use.

You can jump on a few of those worldwide trending hashtags, too. For example, as I’m writing this post, the hashtag #MakeMondayBetterIn3Words is trending. Nearly any business can write a response that applies to their work. My local library responded with “Books books books.” A recording studio put “Free Alessia tickets!” A Jared Leto fan website (talk about a niche market) even replied with “Jared Leto’s smile.”

Stick with your brand message. You may have a clever response, but unless it applies to your company and its motives, tweet it from your personal account. Also, don’t respond to every trending hashtag you see, as that tactic comes off insincere.


Don’t Use Too Many Hashtags

Remember our earlier statistic that tweets with hashtags receive twice the amount of engagement? Buddy Media also found that tweets with more than two hashtags drop 17% in engagement. Though Jimmy Fallon starts plenty of hashtags on his own, he also pokes fun at people who get carried away:

So chill out. Find the two most relevant hashtags, and put the rest of your 140 characters to better use.

Similarly, don’t #hashtag #random words in your #sentences. Most hashtags fall after your main tweet, though you could incorporate one hashtag in the middle of your message if it fits naturally.

Don’t Use a Hashtag Unless You Know What It Means

You see the trending topics worldwide, and you think of the potential millions who could see your tweet if you add the same hashtag. Be careful. Many popular brands botched their reputations by making light of a serious hashtag. For example:

  • #notguilty was trending during the Casey Anthony trial. Baked goods manufacturer Entenmann’s posted, “Who’s #notguilty about eating all the tasty treats they want?!”
  • #Aurora was trending after the 2012 shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Celeb Boutique posted, “#Aurora is trending, clearly about our Kim K inspired #Aurora dress 😉 Shop:…”
  • In 2014, Twitter users started the hashtag #WhyIStayed to talk about domestic abuse. DiGiorno Pizza contributed with the tweet, “#WhyIStayed You had pizza.”

Don’t let one misunderstood hashtag damage your reputation. Do your research. If you find that the hashtag relates to a sensitive situation, only tweet if the event clearly connects to your business or audience.

Don’t Let Hashtags Turn to Bashtags

Some corporate hashtags flop—and some backfire.

The classic example of this is #McDStories. McDonalds wanted customers to share their experiences at the fast-food restaurant. The shake during a perfect road trip. The time you ate a Happy Meal every week to get the newest Beanie Baby toys (or is that just me?). Instead, customers talked about someone finding a fingernail in the French fries, a case of food poisoning, and other stories.

Similarly, J.P. Morgan started the hashtag #AskJPM. People asked their questions all right, like “How come, despite your massive mortgage and derivatives frauds which caused the 08 crash, none of you are in prison?” Understand what your audience thinks of you before you open up the gateway for intense public criticism.

Hashtag Away

One little hashtag can hold a lot of weight. Plan ahead, and use the tips above to elevate your social media campaign!

Shannon Williams
[email protected]

Shannon Williams was the team lead over Onsite Copy and Onsite Blogging at Boostability.