Businesses and brands use hashtags everywhere from Twitter and Instagram to Facebook, Pinterest and even the now-doomed Google+. But using hashtags correctly requires context, a big-picture approach and an understanding of how they fit into targeted marketing campaigns.
When used strategically, hashtags can expand your reach, boost engagement, raise brand awareness, target a specific group of potential customers, increase traffic to your website and boost your search engine optimization (SEO).
To get the most out of hashtags, here are five ways to use them to ramp up your social marketing efforts and get your content and message in front of a broader audience.
- To Increase Organic Reach
It's no secret that Facebook and Instagram's new algorithms make it much more difficult for business users to expand the organic reach of their social posts. This, coupled with the ever-growing number of users and paid promotional posts out there, make it virtually impossible to stand out in the crowds.
Since hashtags help platforms like Instagram and Twitter to categorize your content and make it searchable for your intended audience, they remain one of the best weapons in your organic social media marketing arsenals.
But tread carefully. Using more than 30 hashtags at a time will prevent your post from ever displaying on Instagram.
To boost organic reach with hashtags, try:
- Using relevant tags. Your hashtags should be related to the interests of your target audience, not people who only want to trade follows and likes (steer clear of hashtags like #followforfollow or #likeforlike).
- Using more specific hashtags. Using "#NYCcraftbeer" is much better than simply “#NYCbeer”
- Monitor the competition as well as influencers and even your followers, then "steal" the ones that seem to be most effective.
- To Promote Branding
Creating branded hashtags is one of the best ways to individualize your marketing efforts. As the name implies, branded hashtags probably contain your brand or company's name, tagline or slogan, product name or even a special name linked to your marketing campaign itself.
Using branded hashtags makes it easy to monitor the performance of your marketing efforts, since only relevant posts containing your custom hashtag will be discoverable in searches.
It's also a good idea to ask your customers and other users to use your branded hashtag(s) in their posts, since every time the tags are used increases your brand's presence, thus awareness, on social media.
Sportswear giant Nike has amassed the second-highest number of followers on Instagram, 81.4 million, having clocked impressive growth of 134% in under two years. They may be known for their #justdoit hashtag, but #nike is the 5th most-used branded hashtag in the world.
- To Stay On-Trend
Trending topics like those found in Twitter's sidebar can be a boon to your social marketing efforts, since they engage a large number of users with news, information and input relevant to current events. Using trending topic hashtags can help promote your brand, company products or services to a massive audience that you wouldn't otherwise reach. Tapping into a group of readers who aren't necessarily a part of your usual target audience will also help to build brand awareness and introduce you to new potential customers.
Some ways to use trending topics:
- One strategy involves waiting until a topic related to your brand or company niche starts trending, then begin using the appropriate hashtags to put yourself in front of the audience.
- If you happen to be in an industry or niche that is not a source of many trending topics, you can use relevant hashtags at the appropriate time (such as national holidays) to piggyback on trending topics and gain exposure, no matter what line your business you're in.
- Another way to capitalize on trending hashtags is to customize your content to fit popular topics and issues by starting a conversation that that is in some way related to what you do.
- To Boost Social Media Engagement with Conversation
People love to have positive interactions with brands on social media, and social media engagement through conversations creates awareness, increases brand loyalty and generates valuable word-of-mouth buzz.
Just as chiming in to trending topics can boost your reach, joining in conversations currently taking place on social media by using the appropriate hashtags can also help you to expand your brand awareness. For example, you can use hashtags featuring a sports team or event (national or local), express support for a worthy cause, or jump on the formal or informal holiday bandwagon.
Tide, the laundry detergent brand, took over last year's Super Bowl between the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots with commercials during every quarter featuring David Harbour, known for playing Jim Hopper in Netflix’s “Stranger Things.” Tide's Twitter campaign, which used the hashtags #TideAd, #SB52 and #SBLII generated more than 52,000 tweets during the game.
As in the case of trending topics, your niche or industry should be connected to the conversation in a relevant way or you have to be able to creatively interject yourself into the chatter by drawing a connection between your brand and what's happening in the wider world.
Stay on top of “mentions” across your active social media networks and tap into any relevant conversations, being sure to filter out irrelevant chatter by weeding out conversations that appear to be relevant on the surface, but completely unrelated to your brand or business unrelated to your brand or business.
- To Build a Brand Community
Hashtags on Instagram, Twitter and even Facebooks are more than gateways for user to find what they want need; they are ideal conduits for building a community related to what your business is and what your brand stands for.
After all, after building your brand, the next logical step is to build a community around it.
Once you successfully establish the right hashtag for a given marketing campaign, your customers and followers will be able to connect with each other using your hashtag, which can lead to deeper conversations built around your brand identity.
These conversations help foster a strong sense of community that can connect you with cheerleaders and influencer in your business niche and potential partners outside of it. Some may simply love what you sell, while others could share your mission, values and goals.
To create and support community, it's vital to know your customers and followers, and to put time into strategically developing your own brand story. Ask yourself why you offer the products or services you do. Do they help people? Why do they matter? What are we trying to help people accomplish?
Knowing the answers to these questions will help you to shape a movement that people can get behind (think freedom, adventure, peace, health, happiness, success, etc.), which will form the foundation for your brand community.
The most important thing about building a community on social media is to make sure that the hashtag you settle on is completely original, so you're not confused with someone's else's brand, group or community.
If used properly, hashtags have the power to make your posts and content more discoverable in searches, to contribute to your brand's relevancy, and to promote and increase social media engagement with users and potential customers.