Social media features come and go, but there is one that has shown us the longstanding effects of features that become integral to marketing strategies and business growth. The humble hashtag. If you’re wondering how to use hashtags, here’s everything you need to know!
What may seem to be an ordinary symbol littered between everyday media (on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook) is indeed an impressive and essential digital marketing tool. Hashtags have helped brands reach new levels of audience engagement through simple searches and valuable interactions.
You need to understand what hashtags are, why they exist and how you’re going to use them to boost your revenue dial. Fortunately, you’ve come across our little neck of the internet.
What is a Hashtag?
Hashtags were created to act as metadata for a tweet.
Anybody who grew up with a cell phone and internet connection will be familiar with a hashtag. The symbol is used in everyday digital communication and media. They even make scattered appearances in speech.
But if we’re going to do this thing properly, let’s get a good start on the subject.
The hashtag was first used as a social media feature in 2007 on Twitter by Chris Mesena, a consultant for Twitter at the time. He pitched the idea of introducing an in-text grouping feature, which wasn’t a brand-new concept, but it has been revolutionised by the bluebird app.
“The hashtag was first used as a social media feature in 2007.”
The objective was to create a grouping feature that didn’t gatekeep information and close communities, but rather one that helps people find one another and travel amongst the site as they please. Mesena based his proposal on improving “contextualization, content filtering and exploratory serendipity”.
Hashtags let us eavesdrop on each other from time to time; to interact with communities we love, topics we’re curious about, and maybe competition we want to keep an eye on.
How Should You Be Using Them?
Knowing what hashtags are is a start, but understanding how to properly harness them is another ball game. Luckily, it’s a game that isn’t hard to learn, so you’ll have the content ball in your court in no time.
How you use hashtags is going to impact your audience engagement and brand awareness either positively, negatively or with no impact whatsoever. We don’t know about you, but the third one sounds like the worst option. After all:
And at its core function, that’s what a hashtag does when used correctly. It facilitates and organises conversations on social media.
How do you use hashtags and get the most value out of them?
Using Hashtags with Discretion
One critique of the hashtag is how it looks. It makes text look cluttered and cheap, which is why we advise you use them with discretion. Take a look:
Option 1 – With hashes:
“Sipping #greenjuice at #Nourishcafe in #Greenpoint.”
Option 2 – Without hashes:
“Sipping green juice at Nourish Cafe in Greenpoint.”
Option 2 is easier on the eyes, and it doesn’t seem like you’re trying to loop into whatever conversation is out there. However, it doesn’t start a conversation at all.
Option number 1 is to choose your words wisely. Why are you using that hashtag? What’s the goal? Who are you trying to reach?
For this example, Greenpoint would probably be the best one to tag. People who are trying to find out more about Cape Town and the surrounding areas may stumble across your post, and hey, they happen to love a good celery juice!
Using Hashtags on Instagram
Using hashtags is especially important on Instagram, because they play a crucial role in engagement. The platform is cluttered with hashtags like #likeforlike, #followforfollow, #followforlike or #followback. What these hashtags do is put you on the radar for accounts who are trying to gain a following by whatever means, instead of putting you in the way of people who care about your brand.
These types of hashtags also decrease your credibility and whilst you may gain thousands of ghost followers, you will have missed the mark on meaningful engagement.
Talk With, Not At
A lot of brands make the mistake of thinking hashtags are only useful for letting people find you. Rather, take the road less travelled (but the road that goes to great places) and use your hashtags so that you can find people.
Find out what the common hashtags are in your industry. If you’re in analytics, you may find that common hashtags could be #insights, #marketing, #data or #ecommerce. So go on a deep dive and find out what your audience is talking about, who they’re talking to and most importantly: what they are saying.
If you interact long enough, or perhaps not even for very long at all, you’ll eventually stumble across the golden ticket to becoming an active part of your hashtag community: somebody asks a question.
And it’s a question you, or somebody on your team, would be more than happy to answer. Brands that share information freely are brands people want to interact with. Hashtags are pivotal in directing you towards your target market’s burning questions.
Your interactions don’t need to be as involved as a lengthy explanation. It could be as simple as favouriting or liking tweets that include the hashtags you want to penetrate. This creates an authentic brand presence that isn’t trying to overtake the conversation or sell itself aggressively.
Narrow it Down
How do you make sure you’re finding the best results? You can narrow down your hashtags to find more accurate conversations, especially on Twitter. For example, if you want to find opinion-based conversations surrounding agriculture, you could search for #agriculture opinion.
“Hashtags are pivotal in directing you towards your target market’s burning questions.”
Build a Value-Driven Content Plan
Content – the bane and life force behind any brand actively trying to grow. Here’s the thing: ideating content doesn’t need to be so difficult. If you’re looking in the right places, you can find insights that mould valuable content for your audience.
Using hashtags for content is similar to what we discussed before about finding communities. All it takes is a little research and an analysis of what hashtags your ideal customer is using or which hashtags they are searching for.
Once you have these, you have an all-access pass to questions, comments, thoughts and complaints from your target market. Using that information, you can create content people want to engage with because it has been created with them in mind.
For example, if you supply fresh ingredients and recipes to customers to help them cook healthy and waste less portions, you may find your audience asking how to optimise their kitchen against waste.
You could then use that knowledge to create an e-guide or infographic to demonstrate the small changes people can make to create less waste in the kitchen.
“You can create content people want to engage with because it has been created with them in mind.”
You Don’t Need a Trending Hashtag
Print this heading and stick it on your bedroom mirror.
Contrary to popular belief, the goal of effective hashtag use is not to go viral. Firstly, it’s difficult to achieve even for global brands. Secondly, it isn’t long-lasting. Whilst people may go nuts over a viral hashtag for a few days (at most), the trend dies off before it even has a chance to stick in people’s minds. #Thankyounext.
Instead, invest in using your hashtag strategy to build organic engagement that lasts. This will be far more beneficial than the wave of attention that washes over your brand and swiftly retracts back out to sea.
In a way, this is also the silver lining of hashtags. There is no pressure to post something permanent. You have the luxury of trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t. You can test what people like to talk about and what makes them want to throw tomatoes at you. Either way, you’ll eventually find your niche and use it to secure your little part of the internet (hopefully, we’ll meet you there someday!)
Start Hashtagging & Get Growing
Hashtags are a gateway into a new level of audience engagement which ultimately leads to wider brand recognition and, fingers crossed, profit. Growing your business means investing time into your digital presence, and it gets easier the more you learn.
Keep an eye out on our business page to see what else we have to share about growing your business – you can never have too many tricks up your sleeve. Or you can follow the iK Tribe on social media to see how we put using hashtags into practice.