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Hashtag this: how to use hashtags to serve your business

hashtag n. (on social media web sites and applications) a word or phrase preceded by a hash and used to identify messages relating to a specific topic.

Despite entering the Oxford English Dictionary last year – that arbiter of lexical respectability – the hashtag still baffles many.

And little wonder; in the wrong hands they can backfire horribly (and hilariously). But used properly – to group together conversations about a particular topic – they're a cheap, easy way to attract new leads and encourage customers to further engage with your business.

So here's the quick guide on how to use hashtags.

How to use hashtags: putting hashtags to work

  • Know your hashtag varieties.
    • Brand hashtags. Simply your company name or tagline. Use them to follow what's being said about your business.
    • Campaign hashtags. A hashtag for your current marketing campaign. Use it across different channels to tie your marketing efforts together and to follow the spread of the campaign.
    • Content hashtags. Hashtags that describe content. Use them to improve the SEO of your posts and to help leads find your content.
  • Keep them readable. Keep your hashtags short and sweet – three or four simple words at most. And use CamelCase, ie capitalising the first letter of each word in the hashtag, to distinguish the words.
  • Proofread your hashtags. No one wants a #susanalbumparty.
  • Don't make hashtag soup. Think of hashtags as seasoning – use them sparingly. There should only be one in a single post.
  • A hashtag's not just for Twitter. Once limited to Twitter, they've now spread to Instagram, Google+ and Facebook. And don't be afraid to use them in analogue media, too. They can help to join up your online and offline marketing efforts.
  • Craft hashtags around your customers' search terms. Look to your buyer personas; what words and questions would your ideal customers type into a search engine to find your product or service?
  • Keep your finger on the pulse. Hashtags are a good way to see what's trending in your industry, among your audience and with thought leaders.
  • Beware of 'hashjacking'. If you have something useful to add to an existing conversation, do so, but don't jump on a hashtag bandwagon just to promote your product or service. And make sure you know what the hashtag means; misusing them has landed more than a few businesses in hot water.
  • Use them for big events. Not only can you then track responses to your own events, but you can also contribute to events that you and your colleagues attend.
  • Keep a record of your hashtags. This allows you to keep track of them, see which ones have been most effective and to stop you repeating yourself.
  • Don't say 'hashtag [...]' out loud. Ever. It's like reading out stage directions for an adjective. Keep them on the page.

Hat tip to Brian Solis for the photo.

Social media and content marketing go hand-in-hand. Learn more.

Toby Knott

Marketing copywriter for Articulate Marketing.