Marketing with Hashtags
The hashtag (#) is a powerful symbol in social media—and knowing how and when to use it can help you deliver wildly successful hashtag marketing campaigns by gaining followers and converting them into customers, subscribers and brand ambassadors. On Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms, the hashtag allows a user to join conversations, weigh in on current events, express solidarity with others, and gain new customers with carefully placed phrases that are highlighted by the “#” symbol. Let’s take a look.
The Origin of the Hashtag
The “hash mark” or “pound sign” is also called a “number sign.” Its early use in the realm of technology occurred in the 1970s by programmers who wanted to draw attention to a specific line of code. Fast-forward to 2007, when Twitter user Chris Messina (@FactoryJoe on Twitter) proposed the hashtag for groups. The rest, you might say, is #history.
Hashtags and Trending
Twitter hashtags have taken on a life of their own—serving as bookmarks that anyone can use to find a set of tweets about a specific topic. On any given day (or at any given hour), topics that get a very large number of tweets—usually with a hashtag—rise above the millions of tweets to the coveted “trending” spot on Twitter’s home page. Some examples of topics that reach the trending spot include holidays (#HappyNewYear) and sporting events (#WorldCup). Current events—both local and on a worldwide scale—often rise quickly and are assigned one or more hashtags. The least predictable hashtags can gain momentum quickly. A famous example is #TheDress, a conversation about a picture of a dress. Yes, it sounds unlikely, but #TheDress got more than 10 million tweets!
The Hashtag as a Bookmark
On Twitter and other social media platforms, the hashtag is used as a bookmark—it sets off a word or phrase (typically with no spaces) to make it easy to find in a search. For example, on Instagram, the hashtag #BeautifulSunset is attached to photos of sunsets… and that includes not only pictures of the sun going down, but also images of products, foods, and poetry reminiscent of a sunset. Let’s say a user is buying a t-shirt for her best friend who loves sunsets. She might search Instagram for #BeautifulSunset #T-shirt. Are you beginning to see the possibilities for how you can turn hashtags into dollars?
The Hashtag on Facebook
One in six people worldwide use Facebook, making it rich with opportunity. Using a hashtag to identify your goods or services is one way to draw customers to your page, but let’s see if we can get a bit more creative. If you have written a book, you could try to promote it with a hashtag plus the name of your book: #MyBook. But, unless you’re already on the bestseller list, how will people know to search for #MyBook? If your book is about marketing, you can apply the phrase #marketing in a post like this: “I’ll be signing #MyBook about #marketing in the modern era and I hope you’ll join me.” Now, people who are looking for books about marketing are more likely to find your book than before you applied the hashtag. Taking it to the next step, add the name of the bookstore, with a hashtag, and you’ll draw in people who are looking for news and events related to that bookstore: “Are you fascinated by #marketing in the modern era? Join us at #LocalBookStore this Friday, where I’ll present #MyBook!” While you’re on Facebook, search for people interested in #marketingbooks and post to their pages! You can also search for #Top10Books and #MyReadingList.
The Hashtag Across Social Media
Once you have a clear idea about how hashtags are used, you can promote your product or service with savvy. How to do this effectively? Simple–follow, engage and entertain.
Follow. If your product is health-oriented—for example, an exercise machine, or a smoothie maker—search for related tags: #healthyliving, #NewYearsResolution, #exercise, #greenliving, etc. Following is a great way to learn about what is trending in your field.
Engage. If the associated content (tweets on Twitter, posts on Facebook or photos and comments on Instagram) indicates interest in the same things that your potential customers would find worthwhile, follow the user! Repost, like, retweet, and “pin” on your Pinterest boards. Engaging on social media is fun and easy, and it’s free. It’s like going to a conference of like-minded people, without the travel costs.
Entertain. People love to laugh. Many people like quotes that they can share with their friends and followers. People are looking for a tip or “hack” to make their day-to-day lives easier. And who doesn’t like a picture of a puppy? Make sure that, along with using the hashtag to highlight your product, you also provide some fun to keep your audience coming back to see what you’re sharing.
A Note About When Not to Use a Hashtag
Remember that not all hashtags are the right ones to use when promoting your business. Large and small businesses have come under fire for “hijacking” a hashtag under the worst circumstances–a national disaster, political unrest or other types of bad news. Likewise, if a hashtag is trending but has nothing to do with your brand, move along, and preserve your brand’s integrity.
Hashtag in Real Life
The hashtag is now used not only in social media but also in major media campaigns, like sporting goods chain REI, who advertised its #OptOut campaign in traditional print media, using a hashtag. In less than ten years, the hashtag has changed the marketing landscape significantly. To make it matter for you and your business, track the effectiveness of various terms to which you attach the #. Tracking tools and analytics are available—some are even free or low-cost. You can find them, of course, by searching for #hashtagtracking.
When you’re just getting started, a great way to measure the effectiveness of the hashtag is to see how often it is shared, re-tweeted, posted or pinned. And keep trying, because when it comes to knowing how to run successful hashtag marketing campaigns, #YouCanDoIt.
Midas Marketing is a digital marketing and web development company in Portland, OR