Dear Socially Stephanie,
My 16-year-old son says I need to start using hashtags in our social media posts. I don't want to date myself, but what is a hashtag? And how could they benefit my business's social strategy?
Dad in Denver
Dear Dad in Denver,
I'm proud of you for listening to your son. Teenagers might not know everything, but when it comes to social media, they know a thing or two. So before we get into the nitty gritty of how hashtags can help your business, let me try to explain what they are, as simply as possible.
Now that you know what they are, let's talk about why they are important to your business. That's what really matters, after all. The first important aspect of hashtags is their ability to amplify your reach. When you use a hashtag on Twitter, Google+ or Instagram you are putting your content into a niche category online for others to find easily. Think about it like this. Say you are at your local library and you are searching for a book about caterpillars. If the library didn't use some sort of naming convention, you'd be out there searching for hours. But they categorize their books so you can find them easier. Now instead of looking through hundreds of titles to find the book you need, you only have to look through a specific section. Same thing holds true with hashtags. They make finding content easier. So if you use them correctly, your content is going to get found by those who care about it.
Next let's talk about the community benefits hashtags bring to the table. Hashtags don't only get your content found by the right people, they also get the right people engaging with your content and hopefully with the others engaging with your content as well. If used correctly, hashtags are the best community builders out there. And you know me, social media without community is like Oreos without milk.
There are a few ways to use hashtags to build your own community. The first thing you need to do is to define your hashtag. Here are my two cents, make sure it is easy to remember and resonates with your brand. You probably will want to use your business name in there for good measure. The next step is to promote the heck out of it and get people using it on a regular basis. Incentives are always a good idea to encourage someone to do something. On Twitter you may want to build your community around a TwitterChat. Twitter chats are synonymous with hashtags. Or perhaps on Instagram you can feature their image if they use your hashtag. The key to build your community around the hashtag is to make sure you are actively engaged with it and consistent. You can't use it one day and expect the results to come flying in. You must promote it and promote it well.
And lastly, don't forget to reciprocate. When people start to use your hashtag, and if you promote correctly, they will, make sure you reshare their content, respond and give back. Social media is a two-way street!
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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.)
Illustration by Jesse Wells