Social media is a great way to engage, entertain, reward, and acknowledge your existing customers, but if you’re not using hashtags as part of your social media marketing efforts, you’re missing out on an untapped pool of potentially thousands of new customers.
In today’s blog, we’ll discuss the basic principles of hashtags. Then we’ll explore the best ways to use hashtags to acquire new prospects and increase sales.
Hashtags are made up of a word or a group of words following a pound sign, such as #PhotoOfTheDay or #swag. They’re used to tag your social media posts, functioning as a tool to sort your posts into easily identifiable categories. (If you’ve ever worked on a WordPress blog, you’ll understand the importance of categories.)
Hashtags are used on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, and Facebook. And when you add a hashtag to your post on one of these social media channels, then your post can be found and read by anyone who searches for content containing that same hashtag. In this way, hashtags work like a mini search engine.
They also work like an instant message tool, because people from all over the world following a specific hashtag or group of hashtags can easily comment and post updates on timely or trending topics, such as #Wildfire and #LosAngeles.
How to Create Hashtags
When creating your own hashtags, it’s essential that you do your homework first. If you’ve got a hashtag in mind, be sure to search that hashtag on all social media channels and thoroughly review what comes up. The biggest mistake you could make would be to unwittingly align yourself and your brand with an unsavory social media campaign that’s getting lots of negative press using your exact hashtag or a similar-sounding one.
Some excellent online tools are available to help you select hashtags that are trending or popular right now, including:
- Hashtags.org – Right on the home page, you can check both trending and popular hashtags by category, such as entertainment, environment, etc., or use the search box at the top of the page to generate a free report on your specific hashtag, such as the number of tweets per hour using that hashtag, related hashtags, and links to actual tweets.
- TrendsMap – A map-based tool that lets you zoom in on your specific geographic area and see what the top Twitter hashtags are in your area. (There’s also a nice video that explains how the tool works.)
Best Business Uses for Hashtags
Businesses that sell physical products often have greater success than service businesses using hashtags as part of their social media marketing. For example, the hashtags #beerlovers, #craftbeer, and #catchwave were recently used by one of Brooklyn’s Whole Foods Market locations to alert customers that the final cases of Grimm Ales beer were quickly disappearing.
Casting a wide net with generic hashtags like this can help to bring new customers to your door.
However, even if you run a service business without a brick-and-mortar shop, you can still capitalize on the power of hashtags. For example, in 2014, Esurance ran a commercial following the Super Bowl that offered a prize of $1.5 million for tweeting the hashtag #EsuranceSave30. The response was phenomenal, generating 1.4 million tweets within the first hour. In the end, Esurance’s hashtag promotion garnered:
- 40,000 new Twitter followers within the first few minutes after the commercial aired (double their previous number of followers)
- Over 250,000 new followers over the next few days (10 times their previous number)
And, yes, Esurance honored its promise by awarding one lucky man the entire $1.5 million.
You may not have the budget to run a Super Bowl or post-Super Bowl TV commercial, but you can still use hashtags to:
- Announce blog content, driving traffic to your website
- Increase awareness of your brand through social media engagement
- Attract qualified leads and prospects through contests and promotions
Hashtags Do’s and Don’ts
When it comes to social media marketing and hashtags, it’s all about balance. In an article on the ThriveHive blog, Halley Belt crafted a few simple rules that demonstrate this balance:
- When using a hashtag, make sure you add it into your post instead of just throwing at followers a list of hashtags without context. This will confuse users which can lead to disengagement.
- Avoid hashtagging a million different things in one post. It’s overwhelming for users to see more hashtags than words.
- Hashtag only relevant keywords or phrases that can bring new customers to your page. Remember, your goal is not to show up in every search, it’s to show up in the right searches.
- Avoid repeating the same hashtag multiple times in one post. You may use the word or phrase again, but adding the hashtag in front of every instance of that phrase will not increase the effectiveness of the hashtag.
Have you had a particularly successful hashtag experience? Or made an accidental hashtag blunder? We’d love to hear about it! Please share your story in the comments below.