Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Making the Hashtag Work for Your #Business

Fans of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt got laughs watching the protagonist adjust to several changes in the world after being apart from it for a decade, including the explosion of social media, with her (mis)understanding of hashtags quickly becoming a meme.

Still from "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt." Kimmy is showing a woman her phone, and the caption is , "Hashbrown no filter."

However, if social media is part of your marketing strategy (and it most likely is), it is important to know how to use the hashtag to your benefit.

Basically, a hashtag used on social media is a way for the user to gain quick access to the content tagged with the "#" sign and a word, name, or phrase. The hashtag links to a list of posts that include it - or some iteration of it - and can serve as an instant news feed or an up-to-the-second trend measurement.

Hashtags will help you:

  • Categorize posts: We are bombarded with information on social media, and it can get very overwhelming very quickly. The last thing we want is a frustrated user, so keep your hashtags simple and to the point. Since this post is about using the hashtag in social media, it would make sense for us to use #socialmediamarketing in a hashtag. The category hashtag will most likely be the broadest in scope, potentially covering a number of topics that fall under the category.
  • Reach followers of a specific hashtag: Hashtags can get specific, and they can be all over the place in terms of topic. I just went to Twitter and looked at the current trends, which include #NationalFriedChickenDay (silly), #mondaymotivation (ongoing trend), and #WalterReed (news). This will be considerably more narrow in scope than your categorizing hashtags. For this post, we would use #hashtagmarketing to reach people who have an interest in the topic. Users searching for that exact term, or for #hashtag and/or #marketing would be included in the results. Hashtag trending can generate a great deal of attention, with news programs often recapping news events that became hugely popular in that news cycle.
  • Speak to person or company monitoring a hashtag: If we've heard it once, we've heard it one hundred times - social media is a conversation. Some brands will hold online conversations on a specific date and time and assign a hashtag for participants to use: think of Jimmy Fallon asking viewers to Tweet about a specific subject using a related hashtag and then reading responses during The Tonight Show. Others use a hashtag to organize a meetup of users, or during a "takeover" by a user who is given temporary control of a brand's account. Even if users don't actively participate and only monitor the action, they will still come away with more insight into the topic.

Much like The Force, the hashtag must be used wisely:

Photo of Yoda with the text, "The hashtag is strong in this one."
Even Yoda knows.

  • Do your homework: Research hashtags to find out if what you have in mind is being used, or if there's a similar one that already has some traction. By knowing what hashtags are already in play, you'll learn what your audience's interests are and what conversations are already taking place, so you can fine tune your hashtags if need be. You also don't want your hashtag to be so specific that you're the only one using it.
  • Be unique: Using terminology that's too common in a hashtag will result in a lot of static for your user to wade through, and not many will have the patience for that. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but can be tweaked by adding a little extra to the hashtag. Remember our categories? #Socialmedia may result in a lot of noise, but #socialmediamanagement will filter out much of that.
  • Know when to say no: Hashtags can backfire big time, especially for a takeover or a Q&A. Chances are, if you're a politician or if your brand is at all controversial, stay away from these unless you're ready to go toe-to-toe. Just ask E.L. James or Bobby Jindal about their recent Twitter Q&A disasters (there are many people who literally believe that their handlers hate them and were setting them up for failure - that's how awry things went). Sure, any brand or person is going to have some trolls, but with preparation and an understanding of the undertaking, these events can be successful.
  • Be prepared: If you're using a hashtag for a contest or a giveaway, be prepared to have someone dedicated to monitoring the conversation, and have a list of possible disagreements along with your official responses to them. Being very clear about the scope and the rules at the get-go will prevent many of these issues from arising. It's also a good idea to anticipate questions and/or arguments for any hashtag event by preparing a FAQ that covers potential scenarios with appropriate responses (social media monitors are only human, and their nerves can be plucked, so a script will help them - and their blood pressure - stay even and avoid an argument).
  • Engage: A very specific hashtag can be incredibly successful...as long as people know to use it. Promote the hashtag across all of your social channels, and consider devoting a blog post - even a brief one - to it. Start rolling out the hashtag about a week before you want the conversation to start in order to get it in front of as many eyes as possible. On the flip side, don't hesitate to seize an opportunity to engage your audience with a hashtag conversation if an opportunity presents itself suddenly, just do it wisely.
  • Don't go overboard: Too many hashtags are obnoxious to users. Just don't. Keep it to two relevant hashtags, max. Trust me.
Hashtags used strategically can help you build and engage an audience for your brand. Following the guidelines above will help you plan and implement both a hashtag campaign and enhance your current social media strategies and policies. For guidance with starting or managing social media campaigns, contact Brockett Creative group by email or by calling 315-797-5088.

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