What’s All the Fuss About Hashtags?

Autumn Edmiston, Edmiston Group, HashtagsIf you need a pound of something doesn’t a 5# bag of flour tell you how much the bag weighs? If you’re a social media novice, hashtags — those short links preceded by the pound sign (#) — may seem confusing and unnecessary – but in essence you’re weighing in on the topic of a conversation. Hashtags are integral to the way we communicate online, and it’s important to know how to use them.

So, what exactly is a hashtag? How do you use them? How many of them should you use? Which ones should you use? Should you create your own hashtags? How can you leverage them for real business and life benefit?

My simplified definition is hashtags are like keywords which can be used to organize messages on a social network. These keywords can be similar to keywords used in SEO. This then facilitates the searching and grouping of messages with given hashtags. Hashtags are preceded by the pound sign (#) and can be a word or a short phrase.

Hashtags can help you grow your business using social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Google plus as well as increase brand awareness, help you nurture community and better measure your results and conversations using social media. But like anything else, there are some best practices to be considered when using hashtags.

Be specific: If you’re using a hashtag to join a conversation, make sure the hashtag is specific and relevant to your topic. If you’re talking about a conference, use #OneCon2014 instead of simply #OneCon. A vague or generic hashtag like #conference or #gathering isn’t effective either.

Keep it simple: Hashtags, like links, look like spam if they are used too often. Three hashtags should be the maximum on Twitter and Facebook, but you can get away with more hashtags on Instagram and Vine. And don’t hashtag the same word twice (“#Frozen is a great movie! Everybody go see #Frozen”). It’s #redundant.

Give context: A tweet that contains only hashtags is not only confusing — it’s boring. If your tweet simply reads, “#tired,” your followers will have no idea what you’re talking about. Similarly, if you tweet, “#BreakingBad is #awesome,” you’re not really adding much to the conversation.

You define hashtags by placing a pound (#) sign in front of any keyword(s) in your message and turning them into hashtags. However, the power of hashtags comes from other people using the same keyword(s) so that by clicking on a hashtag you can get a group of other messages on that topic. Hashtags increase exposure and group and organize content. Call it…audience engagement on steroids.

Use hashtags to:

  • Express emotions: #surprised #speechless #frustrated
  • Identify places or brands or events: #Winterfest #TreasureHouseFashions #ChocolateFestival
  • Make recommendations: #MustRead #MustWatch #NowPlaying
  • Connect with like-minded individuals: #ChocolateLovers #Fashionistas

Make your messages easier to organize and find by using hashtag keywords that other people would use when looking for the content contained in your message. Trending is a quick search for keywords you can use to determine popularity prior to posting your message.

Avoid these three common mistakes:

  • Hashtagging every word (i.e. #I #am #so #excited #today)
  • Hashtagging the same word more than once (i.e. It is my #birthday. Here is a photo of my #birthday cake, my #birthday presents, and my awesome #birthday party!)
  • Separating keywords. If your keyword is “Marketing Strategy” your hashtag should be #MarketingStrategy. If you write it as #Marketing #Strategy this will give you two different keywords: “marketing” and “strategy”.

The use of hashtags when done correctly can help increase business exposure, help with SEO and engage your audience in a trending discussion.

About the author: Autumn Edmiston is the CEO and owner of the Edmiston Group. The Edmiston Group is a multifaceted Pittsburgh based marketing consulting firm providing senior level marketing management services to businesses and non-profit organizations on a short or long term basis. Core areas of service are business development, marketing, strategic planning and public relations. The Edmiston Group has consistently delivered and implemented real-world, proven business marketing ideas and strategies for business growth.

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