Social Media Marketing: The Importance of Hashtags

Hashtags, the often “trending” words, phrases, and acronyms on Twitter, are seen as gimmicks and playthings for kids and teenagers to throw around online with their friends. However, this perception should change, and it should change quickly.

Hashtags have are not just for fun, they can be a significant driving force in online communication. This communication can bring about rapid and meaningful change. Take Hurricane Harvey, the disaster currently unfolding in Texas and Louisiana. Users took to Twitter using the hashtag #Hurricane Harvey to provide emergency numbers and rescue information.

Many victims of the disaster posted for help with the hashtag, and received hundreds of replies giving them information about how to be noticed and who to call. Information on how people can donate to relief organizations are also easily found with the hashtag. Within the last 24 hours, over 400k tweets using the hashtag #HurricaneHarvey have been posted, and many more continue to be created (at the time of writing the number of tweets per hour was over 20k).

This is a heartwarming and extreme example of what hashtags are capable of, and it is starting to become clear why hashtags are not just for fun. Hashtags have serious business applications. One of the areas that hashtags can have the most impact is marketing. Today, businesses are struggling to get their names out into the public sphere. Print advertising (newspapers, magazines, etc.) is expensive and largely ineffective. Billboards don’t target specific audiences, and traditional online advertising can get lost in the shuffle fairly easily.

Hashtags, on the other hand, are free, can target a specific audience, and if they gain necessary traction, can reach hundreds of thousands of people in mere hours. The question then, is how can businesses employ these hashtags to effectively market to customers without shelling out big bucks for a marketing firm to think of a new hashtag? Well, the answer is less complicated than one might think. Hashtags don’t have to be complicated, and often it is the least complicated hashtags that succeed.

If a hashtag is too generic or bland, it won’t be picked up because it will be easily lost in the shuffle of Twitter (i.e. #booksale, #funtime). On the other hand, hashtags that are too specific fail for a different reason, people likely won’t see it unless they are very closely following a specific account, and if they do see it, they won’t immediately understand it (i.e. #RedPoloShirtsWithStripes, #BackOurKickstarterNumber4231).

Businesses must consider the short attention span of the average Twitter user (keep in mind the limit for tweets is 140 characters, people on the platform often want quick, easily understood pieces of information. If you can’t hook them with the first few words of a tweet, consider reevaluating your strategy.)

Do you always have to create a new hashtag? No, and sometimes it is a better idea not to create a brand new one. For example, if a hashtag that someone else created has jumped to the top of trending, piggybacking on it’s success could be a viable marketing strategy. You can find information and statistics about trending hashtags in specific industries/areas here: http://hashtagify.me/. Consider, however, that you will want to put your own unique spin on your tweet with the hashtag.

You can get an idea of what the hashtag is about by scrolling through the top tweets using it, but don’t just copy them. Re-invent the hashtag you have selected. At the time of writing, a popular hashtag was #YoureARealAdultWhen, and many of the tweets simply answered the prompt (often in a humorous way). If a hashtag is intended to be humorous in nature, keep that spin, but add your business’ brand to the humor.

People often enjoy engaging with businesses on social media that understand that platform’s culture. Try to study how your industry/field is perceived on Twitter before you make your post, and then give it a shot. Your first attempt might not be successful, and your fifth attempt might not be either, but if you let that stop you from trying, then you probably would never have started a business in the first place.