Mind the hashtag

Before Twitter and the ensuing rise of Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and other tag-happy social platforms, the hashtag key on your keyboard would’ve stayed relatively untouched. In fact, when I think about it, in what context were hashtags used before social media?

Now they are everywhere, even entering into speech as a way to express emotion (#annoying). But today, a hashtag is a way for people to search for a common topic or even begin a conversation. When used correctly, they can be of value to commercial entities because it can get them in front of their audience. This requires them to invest time in researching what their audience is talking about and what hashtag they are following, but all too frequently we are seeing businesses cutting corners and simply jumping on a trending hashtag bandwagon or even taking a guess. If a relevant hashtag is trending, that’s your ‘in’ with the cool crowd, right?

Following the crowd

A trending hashtag may have been used many times, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will get your message in front of the right people, even if it’s relevant to your business. For example, today the top trending tweet as I type is #WorldBakingDay. When I look at the last 50 tweets that include #WorldBakingDay, 38 of them are either businesses or bloggers and just eight of the 50 had any engagement. This is not to say that your audience isn’t looking up the hashtag, but they’re certainly not talking about it or engaging with it.

Its popularity would seem to be thanks to commercial interest. Businesses have checked today’s awareness calendar to dictate their content and failed to instead check what consumers are talking about for inspiration.

Going in blind

Social media is all about joining in the conversation and engaging with people (clue’s in the name), however it’s also important to listen to what people are talking about before jumping in. You don’t want to be an awkward turtle.

Even the biggest brands get it wrong. Take a lesson from the marketing team at Kenneth Cole. In a woeful attempt at promoting its latest Egyptian-inspired Spring collection, the brand used the trending hashtag #Cairo in the midst of the Egyptian Revolution. As you can imagine, this was met with outrange and contempt that did nothing to positively promote Mr Cole’s latest shoe collection.

What can we learn from this? Never blindly commandeer a trending hashtag before understanding why it’s trending.

Listening tool

The power of the hashtag is being commercially exploited and in the wrong hands its power is diluted. Online tools such as ritetag and followerwonk can help, but nothing beats investing time in listening to what your followers and audience is saying. Our advice? Research and build a list of who you would like to target and spend time listening to what is important to them, what interests them and what hashtags they are using. Who are they following and engaging with?

Bottom line, hashtags are an amazing communication resource which can enable you to reach a large audience, but it requires knowledge, consideration and time if you want to use them effectively and gain real results for your business.

Have a plan in place. Don’t just jump on the latest hashtag trend or you may find your message has just been added to the latest list of lazy hashtaggers and lost somewhere in the Twittersphere.

Here are a few of our top tips for #success

Social media isn’t just about talking; it’s about listening. It’s probably the best tool you have that allows you to listen to what your audience is saying, so make sure you take advantage of it.

Social media is known for instant messaging, but that doesn’t mean you can’t plan ahead. Have a social media strategy in place that incorporates best practice when it comes to finding a hashtag that puts you in front of your audience.

Choose your hashtags carefully and when it comes to Twitter, don’t use more hashtags than words in your sentence. Less is more!

Check out what hashtags your competitors and influential people in your industry are using; let them do the leg work.

Instagram’s search function will allow you to type in a keyword that’s relevant to your brand and give you a list of all the hashtags and posts that are tagged with it. Just remember that a large number may mean that a lot of people are following that hashtag, but it also means your post could get buried in a ton of content. Experiment with a combination of popular and niche hashtags.