4 Ways Businesses Can Make the Most of Hashtags

People making hashtags with their fingers

If you’ve been active on social networking sites for any length of time, you’re likely already familiar with hashtags. In the unlikely event that you don’t know what they are, let me give a quick explanation: a hashtag is simply  a word or phrase preceded by the # symbol.

They’re essentially a tool for filtering, categorizing and discovering social media posts by topic. For instance, if you owned a restaurant in Sydney, you may want to listen in on conversations related to your business or industry. So you may run a search for hashtags like:

#RestaurantsSydney

#BobsBrewpub (assuming this was the name of your restaurant)

#JoesBrewpub (assuming this was the name of your competitor’s restaurant)

Monitoring the conversations that are happening around these hashtags can give you a better understanding of what’s happening in your industry, as well as what people are saying about your business and your competitors.

So although at first hashtags may seem somewhat superfluous, they are actually extremely beneficial, and I’d argue, even necessary, for sorting through and monitoring the reams of content that are posted on social networks every single day.

In this blog post, I’ll walk you through the reasons why hashtags are so necessary, how you can use them to grow your business, and what tools will help you manage them most effectively.

Why Hashtags are Important for Businesses

Before I lay out some reasons why hashtags are so important for businesses, I thought it would be helpful to understand a bit of the current ‘hashtag landscape’. Did you know that according to recent research,

  • Nearly 50% of consumers surveyed said they felt motivated to explore new content when hashtags were present
  • 58% of respondents use hashtags on a regular basis
  • 51% would share hashtags more often if they knew advertisers would award discounts for using them
  • 34% use hashtags to follow categories and brands of personal interest

With statistics like this, it’s pretty clear that hashtags are more than just funny, irrelevant little symbols. Consumers are using them to follow and connect with brands, are willing to share brand-related hashtags in exchange for deals, and are more likely to engage in conversations that utilize them.

Those are some pretty good incentives for businesses to be using them!

4 Strategies for Making the Best Use of Hashtags

Having a ‘hashtag strategy’ may be overkill, but having a plan for how you’re going to use them can actually be very beneficial. The more intentional you are about how you use them, the more effective you’ll be.

Here are 4 useful hashtags strategies you can incorporate into your everyday social media activities for maximum impact.

1. Use them to find conversations in your industry.

 

Tagboard screenshot nom

Typically when you use social media, you interact with people or businesses who you’re already connected with. On Facebook you get updates from friends and pages in your newsfeed, on Twitter you see tweets from those you’re following, etc.

By searching for hashtags relevant to your business or industry, you have the ability to find conversations happening outside your sphere of connections. This means finding conversations you’d never have found otherwise, and potentially connecting with like-minded individuals who you would have otherwise never met.

Tagboard is an excellent tool for searching hashtags to find relevant conversations to participate in. It allows you find conversations happening across multiple platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and App.net – and then reply to, retweet or share specific comments. The platform also allows you to create your own Tagboard; if no one has made a tagboard for a particular hashtag (or if you have come up with your own hashtag), you can create your own, complete with images, descriptions and links.

2. Create, use and monitor your brand hashtag.

 

Ben and Jerry's Hashtag

 

If you only take one thing away from this post, this should be it. There is very likely a conversation taking place about your brand online, and hashtags – for good or for bad – help fuel these conversations.

When customers want to complain about your lousy customer service? They’re probably using your brand hashtag. When they want to give you kudos? Same thing.

If you don’t already have a brand hashtag, it’s time to start using one. If one’s already being used, I’d encourage you to monitor how it’s being used, and to participate in the conversation.

3. Use them to promote deals, sales, or campaigns.

 

Nissan 360 Hashtag event

Nissan recently used the hashtag #Nissan360 to promote a large driving event. According to Nissan’s director of interactive and social media marketing Erich Marx, using the hashtag to extend the reach of their event was more effective than they had even hoped:

The number of mentions and shares as well as the engagement we saw from press and fans alike was beyond our expectations…Nissan’s hashtag strategy is to use them in connection with campaigns and/or events as a way to build momentum and enhance engagement and sharing and, ultimately, reach. And we see more engagement today than in past years.”

Using a contest or promotion-specific hashtag can allow you to more easily track the reach and engagement levels of your social media efforts. You can also make tweeting or sharing the hashtag a condition of the contest or deal: for instance, entrants must use the contest hashtag when answering a question or entering the contest via tweets, Facebook updates or by sharing an  Instagram photo.

5. Find and participate in live industry Twitter chats.

 

TweetChat screenshot

Twitter chats are live conversations centred around a particular topic or hashtag. These chats are generally led by a moderator, and take place at regularly scheduled intervals. They are open to anyone, and are a great way to find like-minded individuals to engage with.

To find a Twitter chat, you can use any number of Twitter chat platforms (more on this below), or even just Twitter’s own on-site search. By searching for hashtags that are relevant to your niche, you can meet and network with others in your industry, and potentially form connections with potential customers or clients.

For instance, if you’re an author, you may want to participate in chats like #LitChat, #followreader, or #scifichat. These chats take place at the same time each week, which is the main differentiator between regular Twitter conversations and chats.

Here are a couple of great tools that can help you find and participate in Twitter chats.

  • TweetChat allows you to search for relevant Twitter chats using keywords, or by looking through their chat calendar. You can sort through chats by category (fashion, business, apps, etc.) or by hashtag.
  • Twubs is a great tool for organizing your own chats, as it allows for increased levels of customization. With the ability to brand the chat room page header, and the moderator’s tweets being clearly identified, businesses have more control over how their chats are run.

(By the way, here’s a great example of how not to use Twitter chats for business!)

Final Thoughts

While many business owners use hashtags in their social media efforts, a fair few are still unsure about how to use them most effectively. They’re not just a fun and trendy thing to include in your tweets and updates; they actually have real business value when used correctly.

Do you regularly use hashtags? Which platforms do you use them on? (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.). What strategies do you employ that help you make the most of them? Let me know below!

 

Hashtag image courtesy of Digibuzz