The thing about #hashtags is that you either get it by this time, or you still can’t figure out the sense behind them. They are either a wonderful marketing tool or an utterly useless practice. But regardless of which side you belong to regarding this social media culture phenomenon, chances are your elation or your disdain are both fueled by a fundamental lack of understanding of hashtags. Ignore them and you may be locking yourself out of potential opportunities to be found by and connect with prospects. Overuse them and they could end up doing more harm than good to your social media efforts.
The Simple Art of Hashtagging
The concept is simple enough and the practice is straightforward. Simply prefix key terms with the hash symbol (“#”). And that’s it. Nothing could be simpler! You will also need to bunch up the words of multiple-word phrases into a single term, but otherwise your work is done and your hashtag is good and ready to go.
People can easily find and join the conversation. Hashtags are searchable.
You get a simple and inexpensive (read that as “FREE!”) way to brand your presence.
It’s a great way to engage with your audiences and get them to interact with you.
Of course there are also disadvantages to using hashtags.
The tag uses up space, of course. If you’re using Twitter, this matters very much, of course, although it might not be an issue for people using other social media networks with more robust messaging capacities.
They could backfire on you, Just ask McDonalds (or simply google “McDonalds hashtag disaster”).
Hashtags are searchable, right? That means mistakes are likewise easy to find.
They are prone to hijacking. That is, someone can use your hashtag for some other purpose that may be dumb, at best, or even downright diabolical (again, ask McDonalds).
Each platform implements hashtags differently. Although the core functionality is essentially the same across all social media networks, each one has a slightly different approach to handling their hashtags’ functionality. You need to be aware of these differences to wield these beasts effectively in your social media marketing campaigns.
How to Make Hashtags Work for Your Business
The key is understanding how they work in each platform.
Twitter does not support special characters, only alphanumeric characters and the underscore (“_”). There is no limit to the length of your hashtag, but of course you know that there is a 140-character limit to the entire Twitter message. This situation works well in drawing people into the conversation. People have used hashtags effectively during events, where even non-attendees get to feel part of the event by following the corresponding hashtags and receiving updates on how the event unfolds.
Like Twitter, Instagram does not allow special characters, only letters, numbers and the underscore character. Furthermore, Instagram lets you add up to 30 hashtags to a single photo. Users have discovered that hashtags significantly increase following and work effectively in engaging people in games.
Google+ may know a thing or two about hashtags that we don’t because it will try to automatically assign hashtags to your posts after it tries to figure out what your topic is. The platform also differs from Twitter and Instagram in how hashtags are handled and there seems to be no limit to how many hashtags it allows. Google+’s hashtags appear to be aimed at organizing posts and making them easier to find, reprising, within a smaller scope, Google’s search engine role, out in the larger Web universe.
Hashtags appear to be an afterthought on Facebook, providing no clear advantage for searching the platform. Well, they do seem to work well in cross-platform situations, such as posting from Twitter and Instagram. Like Google+ there appears to be no apparent limit to how many hashtags you can include in your post, and like Google+ the main function of hashtags in Facebook is to organize and categorize conversations.
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