Let’s talk about hashtags.

It might seem like a small, unimportant character that you sometimes hit accidentally when typing, but in the world of social media, it should be your new best friend. The hashtag is your key to increasing your visibility, expanding your reach and finding new fans.

That’s a hardworking little symbol.

But, it’s not just as simple as hashtagging #every #single #word. You need to do your research and make sure social media’s favourite character is working for you.

A badly timed or poorly planned hashtag can be damaging to your business, and while it might grab you five minutes of fame, no one wants to be on the list of 2019’s worst hashtag fails.

So, let’s explore the power of the #.

The Hashtag Hero

For a humble symbol, the power of the hashtag is enormous. If researched and used correctly, the hashtag has immense marketing power that can reach a huge audience, even if you’re starting with a small follower count.

It’s a great way to level the playing field for small businesses and give you the reach you need to boost your brand, without the rocketing marketing fees.

Twitter has been all about the hashing since Chris Messina ‘invented’ hashtags as we know them in 2007. Instagram is also incredibly hashtag-friendly, allowing posts to include up to 30 tags to gain that essential reach. But don’t be tempted to hit that upper figure. We’ll explain why later.

Need some help in choosing which social media platform suits your business best? We have a double feature exploring the nuances and pros and cons of each platform:

In fact, Instagram has increased the power of the hashtag with their new Topic Channel feature, where users can browse personal channels full of curated posts that fit the interests of each individual viewer — all done using relevant hashtags.

Tagging allows for highly-specific audience targeting. By selecting related and simple hashtags that suit your business you can tap into an already engaged and interested community.

You can expand on this by creating a personal hashtag that’s tailored specifically to your business. But beware, even if your business seems niche — like selling micropigs or teaching people how to yodel — there’s usually competition out there. So make sure you do your research, so you’re not diluting your market and stepping on fellow business owners’ toes.

Research, Research, Research

Let’s face it, the internet is a weird and wonderful place. We love it for that usually, but we might not want our business linked to some of the more eccentric offerings out there.

So, ALWAYS research a hashtag before using it. It may seem time-consuming, but it’s worth those extra minutes to avoid red faces if you accidentally find yourself the target of a weird hashtag crossover.

British baking company Warburtons discovered this when they used the innocuous enough looking #crumpetcreations for a Christmas competition, only to find that the hashtag had already been claimed by a mildly NSFW topic years earlier. #Awkward.

You should also carefully consider any double meanings that a hashtag may have. Clothing retailer Dorothy Perkins had an embarrassing and very NSFW mishap while using the hashtag #LoveDP early last year.

So, now you know what to avoid, how do you find the popular and relevant hashtags that suit your brand?

The best thing to do is identify your competitors and influencers within your sector. Go and look at the posts they make and take note of their hashtags. Pick the ones that suit your business and be sure to weed out any irrelevant or brand-specific ones.

You can also delve a little deeper into this and use a hashtag analysis tool such as RiteTag, Keyhole or Socialalert to track and examine real-time data of how a hashtag performs, and the reach it gives you. By understanding what works for you, you can tailor future content to have the widest reach and most power.

Hashtags How-To

We’ve covered the basics, so let’s get stuck into the more nuanced aspects of hashtagging that will help you become a social media maven.

The most common mistake businesses make is over hashtagging. Instagram may allow you to squeeze in 30 tags — but you shouldn’t. And here’s why:

The reason social media is such a powerful tool for businesses is that it adds a human aspect to your brand. It’s not a glossy marketing campaign and it’s not designed for the hard sell. It’s about putting you in touch with a potential community who care about your brand and want you to succeed.

If you use too many hashtags in posts it can become too businesslike and impersonal. Your community wants to read your story, not wade through an ocean of hashtags.

The best way to maximise your reach, but maintain high-quality content is to stick to 3-5 relevant hashtags per post — and try to vary these as much as possible because it will hit a more diverse audience.

Of course, hashtags aren’t only for posts. You should regularly browse your associated hashtags to check the pulse of the industry and keep tabs on what your community is posting about you.

You can also participate in Twitter chats that suit your business or industry. By getting involved you can gain valuable insight into what your target market want and need and in turn build your visibility and influence.

Raven has compiled a master list of some of the more popular Twitter chats if you need a starting point.

When Hashtags Go Wrong

It’s every marketer’s dream to achieve a viral post. Watching those likes and retweets bump up is certainly exciting and rewarding.

But as Susan Boyle’s PR and countless others will tell you, sometimes it’s not for the right reason.

Let’s think back to some of the more embarrassing and publicised hashtag fails, we’ve already mentioned Susan Boyle’s disastrous #susanalbumparty, which reads VERY differently to how it was intended.

There’s also the unfortunate incident of a Swiss PR firm publicising The Hobbit with the #hobbitch hashtag and Chester Literary Festival found themselves with red faces after pushing the hashtag #CLitFest.

So remember, when it comes to creating and launching your own personal hashtag, research, review and if in doubt — ask a friend!

You should also monitor current affairs, and if you see a hashtag trending that you could utilise for your own posts, make sure you check it and make sure it has the same meaning as you want it to. Badly timed hashtag use can really damage your business.

Finally, don’t just jump on the popular and trending hashtags if they hold no connection to your brand. Communities don’t like this tactic and can often begin to resent brands that they feel are providing misleading content. As a small business, your most powerful commodity is trust — don’t damage that just for empty social media follows.

If you’re feeling nervous about social media etiquette, we have a handy guide to help you avoid the common pitfalls and become socially savvy:

There’s really no hidden secret. With research and knowledge, you have all the powers you need to become a hashtag hero!

If you’re interested in finding out how Social INK can help your business, don’t hesitate to reach out here.

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