We can all appreciate the use of an ironic hashtag from time to time, but don’t let their novelty fool you. Hashtags can be powerful marketing tools if used correctly. Too often though, hashtags are misused and misunderstood. Just to make sure we’re up to speed, let’s start with the basics.  

What are hashtags?

Now supported by most social media platforms, hashtags are tools that we can use to sift through the endless mounds of information on the Internet. They act as matchmakers, connecting people who are looking for information with other people who are providing that information. This presents a major marketing opportunity, and businesses the world-over are building their brands by using hashtags for one simple reason: it works. However, using hashtags effectively is not an exact science; it’s an art form, and as such, requires some serious thought. So here are some things to consider before you hit the ‘#’ key…

  1. Hashtags should be specific and concise

The more narrowly targeted your content is, the more your audience will engage with it. Using bland, forgettable hashtags like “#travel” is a great way to get lost in the noise. Using specific, informational hashtags like “#travelnorway” will ensure that the people you connect with are actually interested. However, “#traveltooslonorway” is too long to be effective. Hashtags leave no room for spaces between words, so you have to balance your specificity with clarity and brevity.

  1. Hashtags should be used sparingly

Don’t use 10 hashtags when 2 will do. Excessive hashtagging will make you look tacky and desperate. Quality is better than quantity, and it’s better to engage with 2 people who are genuinely interested in your brand than 10 people who are wondering why you were in their search results in the first place.

  1. Hashtags include you in a conversation – stay on topic

Hashtags are not used in a vacuum; they enable people to join the global conversation about current events. As such, the normal rules of social interaction apply when your brand joins a conversation. Don’t join a conversation if you have nothing to add. People will know that you are self-promoting, and that will reflect badly on your brand. Inversely, making a meaningful contribution to a relevant discussion could earn your brand some serious respect, not to mention generate awareness.

  1. Hashtags allow you to participate in current events and trends – take advantage of that!

The Internet is a community, so why not engage with that community? On Thursday, using #throwbackthursday would not go amiss if done tastefully. During the 2014 Winter Olympics, “#Sochi2014” appeared in people’s newsfeeds upwards of 15 billion times, and that’s just Twitter.  

  1. Hashtags can and should transcend platforms

Consistency is a key element in any successful marketing campaign. While the rules of engagement differ slightly from one platform to another, the simplicity and continuity of a unifying hashtag to tie all of your content together can work wonders. That is why you will even see hashtags used on television: these help people connect with brands on their platform of choice.

  1. Hashtags should leave absolutely no room for misinterpretation

The Internet is a strange, dark place, and even the most well-intentioned hashtag can get away from you. The hashtag you use does not belong to you, but it does reflect on you, so be careful! When UK singer Susan Boyle released her 2012 album, her PR team promoted it using the hashtag “susanalbumparty.” It went viral in no time, but for the wrong reasons. #regrets