Whether they entertain, confuse or annoy you (or some combination of the three), hashtags do one thing 100% of the time: they make ordinary social media posts clickable. And that means two very important things for brands: your original content becomes searchable, and you have a new opportunity engage your social audience every single time you post.
On planet Twitter, hashtags create instant real-time news feeds out of thin air, from first aid and safety responses after #SuperStormSandy to waiting for the #RoyalBaby to make his appearance. Instagram hashtags solicit, through a trendy vintage filter, spontaneous visual testimonials about your brand or event. Facebook, unfashionably late to the hashtag party, is a prime spot for using hashtags as a rallying cry for your cause – even if your cause is a Midnight Madness sale on mattresses.
Regardless of the social platform, every hashtag you use should have a job, and you should know what that job is before you hit “post.”
7 Ways to Use a Hashtag:
To Find New Fans.
Your audience clicks on a hashtag for one simple reason: to find more content related to what they’ve just seen. If you want to be there when they search, it’s time to get familiar with the pound sign. That means using your own custom tags to serve up brand-specific collections of posts (think #BobsAwesomeCoffee), and putting some SEO-like strategies in place (think #BrooklynCoffeeShop or #FortGreene) to make sure your posts – and your fans’ posts—show up when someone gets curious and clicks.
To Rally Support.
If there’s one thing social media users love, it’s showing their support for a cause. When big-box brand Target teamed up with do-good organization FeedUSA, shoppers were more than happy to tell everyone in their social network that the cute #FEEDusa water bottle they snagged at @Target helped to provide meals – 10 million, in fact—to America’s poor. Win/ Win/ Big Win.
To Promote the Now.
From conference attendees tweeting your brilliant quotes to fans snapping selfies in front of your fab food truck at a street festival-- if they’re participating in your event, they’re probably posting about it already. Establish and promote a hashtag for them to use and you’ll create three things: real-time coverage of your event, a collective record of the experience, and an instant promotion targeted to your customer’s nearest and dearest.
To Measure ROI.
When you make your own hashtag, you create a channel that’s all yours to measure. Sites like hashtracking.com and HootSuite can show your tag’s reach and impressions in just a few clicks. And even though hashtags have more limited potential on Facebook due to the platform’s privacy options, it also brings a new layer to social media ROI— it’s the only one with ad space. While your hashtag’s clicks might not travel as many social circles, you do have the ability to target your ads to followers of specific hashtags. It doesn’t get much more targeted than that in social media (at least not yet).
To Listen Up/ Listen In.
Brands know that social media gives us unprecedented access to consumer thought, behavior and trends. Hashtags only enhance that passive listening toolbox, letting us get ultra-specific when we’re gauging our audience’s reactions to a particular subject or promotion. And to go a step further, brands can be active listeners, too—soliciting ideas, opinions and general sentiment on all kinds of issues from its consumer base. (Just be prepared to take the good with the bad).
To Put Your Fans to Work.
What do people love? Posting stuff. What do brands love? Consumer engagement. Put the two together with a pound sign and you’ve got a global street team ready to build content for you. Starbucks did it recently with its #strawsome campaign, soliciting images of its customers’ icy beverages and creative straw constructions. The result? A clever summer promotion, tons of user generated buzz, and lots of cold, sweet caffienation.
The bottom line: If you add a hashtag to your post and you’re not sure why you need it, chances are you don’t. Start over, do a little casual research, and find or create one that can make good things happen for your brand.