Hashtags: you've almost certainly heard of them, on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Instagram, and a host of other social networking sites. You will almost undoubtedly have seen them, too, on websites, in advertising campaigns, at the beginning of your favourite TV shows, and even embedded into video games. You may even have experimented by casually littering a few within your tweets, but are you using them effectively?
Twitter's own research shows that the use of hashtags in a post can lead to double the user engagement for individuals and 50% more for brands. The research is a couple of years old, and only conducted on approximately 150 brands, but there are numerous other reports that show similar findings too.
In short, you should be using #hashtags in your Twitter marketing.
Research Appropriate Tags
The first step is to find appropriate keywords. Ordinarily, we would advise the use of Twitalyzer for this step, but most of the useful reports are now paid versions. As such, this may require some manual work unless you're willing to set aside some of your marketing budget.
Start with the main categories, or keywords, for your site. #Twitter, #marketing, and #hashtags would be a good start for this post. Also consider looking at the posts in your timeline to see the hashtags that are being used by those that you follow. Draw up a list combining your own thoughts with those you have taken from influencers in your industry.
Find Related Tags
Hashtagify.me remains a powerful, useful, and free tool. Enter your keyword or hashtag in the search box. You will be presented with a number of related tags in circles, and the bigger the circle the more popular that tag is. Under the graphic, you can click Table Mode so that you can enjoy an easier-to-read representation of the most popular, related tags.
Not all of the tags will be of any use, but you should find at least a handful of additional tags to add to your list of tags, ready to test on Twitter itself.
Check The Spelling
This is a more important rule for those that create their own hashtags, and especially those that combine two or more words. Singer Susan Boyle found to her detriment that combining words can have a very negative effect, when #SusanAlbumParty went viral as #SusAnalBumParty.
Ensure You Don't Piggy Back On Other Campaigns
DiGiorno Pizzas recently saw the hashtag #WhyIStayed, and quickly tweeted a response that read "Why I Stayed: You Had Pizza" before taking the time to check the original intention of the tag. It turns out, that it was being used by victims of domestic abuse to explain why they stayed with abusive partners.
Always be extra vigilant before you jump in on an existing hashtag campaign.
If necessary, check on #tagdef to see whether there rae any definitions for a tag that you are considering using - it could save you a red face, and potentially even your social media manager job.
Test Your Hashtags
Once you have a list of hashtags that you are considering using, there is no better place to test them than on Twitter itself.
Ideally, you should be testing everything from the best day of the week to the best time of the day to Tweet. You should also determine whether images and videos help spread the word further, and consider trying different lengths of tweets too.
Use a tool like Tweetdeck, prepare the basis of your Tweet, and then create a handful of versions and schedule them to post separately. Ideally, you should test this by posting a single tweet a day, on the same or similar days, and only changing the hashtag that you use in your message. Don't forget to include one that doesn't have any hashtags.
Research shows that one or two hashtags can greatly increase engagement, but more than this will see lower engagement figures. Get started, but don't get greedy.
Track Your Own Results
Always track and monitor your own social media results, rather than, or as well as, using online tools. You can store exactly the data that you want, manipulate it to greater effect, and create more accurate testing results. Stick to the hashtags that give the best results, but don't be afraid to test new ones every now and then to enjoy even greater results.
At the very least, ensure you use one or two relevant, targeted hashtags with every tweet.