In June 2013, Facebook announced it now supports something that had up until now been uniquely part of the Twitter landscape — hashtags. Many Facebook friends who were familiar with them from Twitter were excited by their appearance. Other people who had only dabbled in Twitter reacted to the information with scepticism. But most of opinions I read on Facebook expressed mystification. What ARE hashtags? What are they for? How do you make use of them? Why should we care?
WHAT IS A HASHTAG?
If you’re amongst those who don’t use hashtags, here’s a quick overview.
A hashtag is a word or term preceded by a ‘hash sign’, i.e. #. There can be no spaces between the hash sign and the word/term, and there can be no spaces in between words if you are using more than one word. When you put together a tag in this way, it automatically generates a hyperlink. If people click on the hyperlink, they will find all the most recent Tweets or Facebook posts from anyone who has used that tag.
So making a hashtag is simple. Just put a # sign in front of anything and you’ve made one. But understanding what makes a really good hashtag and how to utilise them correctly requires some expertise. Here are 5 essential and helpful ways to use hashtags on both Facebook and Twitter.
HASHTAG USE 1: FOLLOW REAL-TIME TRENDING TOPICS
Perhaps the most common use of hashtags is to follow comments about a story that is developing in the moment. Trending stories often tend to be about entertainment or breaking news (example: #Wimbledon #XFactor). Sometimes they are about a natural disaster, such as Hurricane #Sandy in 2012.
Clicking the link on trending hashtags will give you a list of corresponding comments and new reports. This can provide you with a great source of info on topics in which you may be interested.
HASHTAG USE 2: CONNECT WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE INTERESTED IN A SPECIFIC SUBJECT MATTER
While some hashtags are on temporary ‘trending’ topics, others are on long-term topics of interest. One example is the hashtag #SocialEnterprise or its frequently used shortened version #SocEnt. It seems logical to assume that people using this hashtag are probably interested in the topic of social enterprise. So if you’re interested in social enterprise and you’re looking for new connections, click the hashtag and you should be able to find lots of them.
HASHTAG USE 3: CREATE A BRAND IDENTITY
If you’re a company, it’s valuable to create a hashtag that distinguishes your brand. If you’re in the media, you can similarly make up hashtags for titles of books, radios shows, magazines, films, newspapers or TV programs.
While the obvious benefit of using a brand or product hashtag is that it increases brand identity, the more powerful advantage is that if Twitter or Facebook users click the hashtag they will discover all the Tweets and updates you OR your customers and fans have written about you. This means people can instantly find out more about your company or product without even having been to your website. And, obviously, if any of these updates include links to your website, people might check them out if their interest is aroused.
HASHTAG USE 4: PUT A HASHTAG WIDGET ON YOUR WEBSITE
After you’ve set up a brand hashtag, you can utilise it to your advantage by bringing your hashtag stream onto your website, blog or sales page using a ‘Twitter widget’.
To create a Twitter widget for your hashtag, log into your Twitter account, and click ‘options’, ‘settings’ and then ‘widgets’. Create a new widget for your brand hashtag (don’t forget to use the #). This dynamically updated widget will display all Tweets (not just your own) that are using your hashtag.
This strategy can arouse the curiosity of your website visitors, so they will want to find out more about your company, your book or whatever is being promoted. It also helps to make the subject seem lively, as they see real-time updates on this topic.
HASHTAG USE 5: TRACK AN ONLINE MARKETING CAMPAIGN
Without a doubt the most helpful use of hashtags for marketers is tracking and analysis. Whenever I am setting up a promotional campaign for one of my clients, I set up a unique hashtag for that event. In order to be effective and accurate, this hashtag needs to be created with care, so it is not likely to be already in use for other purposes by someone else. For example, to guarantee uniqueness when using a hashtag to track one of my book launch clients, I typically take a keyword from the book title and integrate it with the date of the launch (e.g.: #AlchemyJan23).
Additional tip: Hashtags are NOT case sensitive, but using upper and lower case can make them less complicated for your followers to read and identify.
Uniqueness is vital, but try not to get too cryptic when you invent tracking hashtags. I’ve seen some hashtags that are as confusing as a secret code, offering me no idea as to what I’ll find when I click the hyperlink. I believe this is a missed opportunity to bolster brand identity. Spend a little time to make your tracking hashtag a good balance between length, keywords, brand and uniqueness. Always be sure to TEST any hashtag before using it, to see if other people are using the same tag for a different purpose.
TRACKING YOUR HASHTAGS
Using hashtags to track your promotion is easy, but the methods for Facebook and Twitter are different.
For Twitter, you can track your campaign by setting up a column (stream) for it in a software programme like HootSuite or TweetDeck. This enables you to observe which of your partners or followers are Tweeting the most often, and which Tweets are getting the most response in people’s favourites, comments and ReTweets.
For Facebook, method for tracking your promotion is to type the hashtag (don’t forget the # sign) into the search at the top of your Facebook page. That way, you can see all the most recent updates by you and your partners that mentioned your hashtag, and see how many likes, comments, shares, etc. . You can comment on posts by your fans and partners, and engage in threads you might not have discovered had they not used your campaign hashtag.
DON’T GO OVERBOARD!
There are a few crucial things you should remember when making and utilising hashtags:
Overuse of hashtags can be really irritating to your friends and followers. I see some people put them to the #beginning #of #every #word. This is just plain pointless.
Overuse of hashtags can occasionally get your Tweets filtered from search results on Twitter. I’m not sure about Facebook.
Some people try to get ‘seen’ by pilfering other people’s hashtags, or by stuffing popular but irrelevant hashtags into their Tweets. On Twitter, this is likely to get your account suspended. Again, I don’t know about Facebook as it’s still early days, but I hope they have a similar policy.
You might say I’m a geek, but I really like hashtags. I embrace the introduction of hashtags on Facebook and see them to be a perfect example of how new systems cross-feed one another and make a superior product or service.
So be courageous. Be imaginative. Use hashtags with confidence. Have fun with them. But always be an ethical marketer by utilising them appropriately, respectfully and wisely. In this way, they’ll work FOR you, not against you.
Lynn’s book Tweep-e-licious! has an entire chapter on using hashtags on Twitter, along with a wealth of information on creating compelling content, finding ideal followers, building relationships, monetising on Twitter and much more. Click the link to buy the book and get instant access to Lynn’s free 90-minute Twitter audio class.
To find out more about Lynn, the 7 Graces Project and to receive twice weekly articles about ethical marketing, social media tips, social enterprise and new paradigms for business, visit the 7 Graces of Marketing blog at http://the7gracesofmarketing.com