Dear Socially Stephanie,
I see everyone using hashtags. Do they actually work? I just don't get it. Help!
Hashtag-Hopeless in Houston
Do you want the good news or the bad news first? The bad, you say? Okay, then: Hashtags are here to stay, so you've got to get on board. But the good news is, I'm about to give you a crash course in all things hashtag in less than a thousand words. You ready to do this? #LetsGo.
Where to begin? Let's bring it back to the days of old. And when I say that, I really don't mean that old: I mean a few years ago, when hashtags were just emerging on the scene. They were originally a way to categorize things, a way to search. You see, before Twitter search got incredibly smart, hashtags served as a means to find everything in one place. Today, they are less about search and more about context.
You still following? Good. When we talk about context you can think of hashtags like this: your hashtag is your roof, while all the tweets connected to it make the house. It's the meeting place for all things about a specific category.
When it comes to using hashtags, you want to have a few different approaches. Think about broader hashtags like #socialmedia and very specific hashtags like #socialmediaweek. #Socialmedia can contain content that is about social media in general, while #socialmediaweek contains content only about this one particular event.
The point of using hashtags is to connect with others using the same hashtag. Okay, you might be saying, what about when people hashtag things like #ohmygodisthisreallyahashtag? Forget about that. Does that connect you to others using that hashtag? Nope. Or at least not the right person. (That having been said, some people use long hashtags like that for comedic effect -- but whether that works or not depends on your reader's particular sense of humor.)
Now let's talk about hashtags from a business standpoint. You don't need to hashtag everything. In business, we want the hashtag to be effective. If it doesn't work for your business in some way, don't even bother. In fact, to make things even easier on you, I'd stick to these three reasons for using hashtags.
1. Community building. This is a hashtag that you and your fans, community and customers use to identify themselves with the group. It's like a secret handshake, and everyone who uses it is part of something. Think about using your business name or something related. You want to own this, so it needs to be specific to you -- do a thorough search to make sure no one else has used it.
2. Branding purposes. Hashtags can be very effective for branding your images, ideas and messages. If you go this route, you need to create a hashtag and stick to it. Branding takes time so be patient and be consistent.
3. Trends and real-time events. Because trending hashtags indicate that there is already a ton of conversation around a topic, it's a good way to connect with a mass group. Take the #SuperBowl, for example: that's definitely going to trend, so you can use it in your messaging to connect with those following along. The #Oscars, too. Real-time and live events are a fun way to jump on the hashtag bandwagon.
Stick to these tips and you'll be in good hands. The one exception? Instagram, where the more hashtags you use, the merrier. You see, on Instagram the only real way to get found is by using related hashtags. So feel free to use hashtags for the three reasons listed above, and beyond. I've heard that 7 hashtags is optimal, but hey, why not explore for yourself?
All right, my friend. How you feeling? Good? Welcome to #hashtag nation. Good luck!
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Please email [email protected] and let Stephanie help you solve your social quandaries, queries, and boondoggles. (Questions may be edited for length and clarity.)