Hashtags have quickly infiltrated our communication online and even sometimes offline. Teenagers can be heard using “hashtag” even while they’re talking – satirically perhaps to start with but gradually becoming as ubiquitous as “like”, “OMG” and “fail” (and why not combine them? #fail).
The humble hashtag originated on Twitter, where it evolved organically rather than as a top-down introduction from the platform. The first one that caught on was #SanDiegoFire during the Californian wildfires of 2007. Hashtags became clickable in 2009, linking you through to all the tweets that use that particular hashtag. For the recent world cup, Twitter used the popular hashflags as well as the more obvious #WorldCup and #WorldCup2014, with 672 million tweets over the course of the championship. And you can even use hashtags for online shopping, with Amazon letting you add a product to your shopping basket by replying to a product tweet with #AmazonBasket.
Today, hashtags have spread to other social platforms. Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags and they’re avidly used. Google Plus automatically proposes relevant hashtags based on the content of your post. Facebook even got in on the game last summer, though their usefulness is questionable. Not to mention Pinterest, Vine, YouTube…
So how can you leverage the power of hashtags for your business?
The most obvious place to start is with your brand.
First, your brand name: #gucci, #spanx, #sephora; or your product: #android #ipad #app.
Next what about your tagline, if you have one: KitKat does #haveabreak, Nike does #justdoit, Red Bull #givesyouwings. All of these tap into an action or lifestyle that goes beyond the brand and the product it sells.
Then you can use a campaign-specific hashtag: #thankyoumum from P&G, #gettalking from President Obama. You can focus these around events to make them even more relevant, like Adidas did with #allinformurray during Wimbledon.
Then you can introduce some commonly used tags.
#nowplaying gives your fans a glimpse behind the scenes of your office and the music you’re currently listening to.
#TBT or “Throwback Thursday” lets you share photos or titbits from your company history.
#FF With “Follow Friday“ you can recommend people for your fans to follow as well.
To tap into the real-time power of social, use trending hashtags.
As with all content, make sure you engage on topics that have a natural fit with your brand. Maybe your laundry detergent can tweet about keeping your whites white during #Wimbledon, or your make-up brand can give tips on how to get the red carpet look for the #Oscars. One brand that’s particularly good at tapping into seasonal events in a relevant way is Durex (take a look at their Facebook page for some great examples).
Don’t just jump onto a trend unless you have an authentic way to tie into it.
Other top tips:
Get creative – Go beyond the obvious and see what you can come up with. What hashtags can you create that will link into your brand but also go beyond? Some good examples are #tweetfromtheseat from Charmin toilet paper, #flosslikeaboss from Oral-B, #goddessproblems from Gillette Venus.
#Dont #go #hashtag #crazy – It’s annoying to read and it can feel very promotional. Remember Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake. Two is probably the maximum for Twitter and Pinterest before it gets spammy.
#Keepthemshortandeasytoremember – The best hashtags are short and catchy. #CapitalisingEachWordHelps but remember that most users are not going to bother…
Read it and then read it again – The #susanalbumparty hashtag for Susan Boyle was quickly withdrawn when the team behind it realised the unfortunate consequence of running those particular words together. Make sure you research it as well, so that it’s not already being used for something else that doesn’t fit well with your brand…
Have a plan in case your campaign backfires – Hashtags have been known to be hijacked and used in a counter-productive way. When McDonalds started tweeting #McDStories about their staff, you can imagine how customers responded with their own, less positive, stories… and that conversation is still going. Make sure you have a response plan: do you retreat and go silent? Do you respond in a funny way? Do you try another hashtag instead? Yes, social conversations are happening in real time, but effective brand engagement requires careful planning.
So what hashtags are you using on your business? What are your favourites from other brands that you’ve seen? Join the conversation with your comments below!