Leveraging Hashtags in Social Media

A little over a week ago, Facebook joined the ranks of Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Instagram and introduced hashtags to the site. 

For the uninitiated, hashtags allow social media users to add clickable links to their posts simply by typing a pound sign (or this: #) immediately followed by words or numbers (and no punctuation or spaces). A hashtag can look like this: #BoldHive. Or this: #OSU2013. Or even this: #BaconMakesMeHappy. It can look like anything so long as it is a pound sign followed by letters and/or numbers.

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What makes hashtags useful? When someone clicks on a hashtag, they can pull up a stream that shows every single other post on that site that also includes that hashtag. Want to see everyone who is tweeting about Red White and Boom? Follow the #redwhiteandboom hashtag on Twitter. Want to see who’s posting about the North Market? Check out the #northmarket hashtag on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and more. (Warning: you might get really hungry if you follow this hashtag.)

You can almost think of hashtags as your entry into an index for any and all conversations occurring on Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and now, Facebook. (You can even use tagboard.com to follow hashtags occurring on all of these social media platforms.) And when you add a hashtag to your own post, you’re indicating that what you are saying is part of a global conversation too. In other words, people can find you when they follow or search for the hashtags that you add to your posts.

But how do hashtags fit into your own social media use for your business? With Facebook now jumping on board with hashtag use, how can you leverage hashtags to promote your brand? Perhaps even more importantly, how can you avoid making hashtag mistakes?

Know when to use a hashtag—and when not to

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“Hashtag etiquette” often depends on which social media site you are using. For instance, if you are on Twitter, you don’t want to overpopulate your tweet with hashtags. Why? #The #primary #purposes #of #Twitter #is #to #send #out #verbal #messages, #and #if #every #other #word #in #your #tweet #is #a #hashtag #your #message #will #get #lost #in #the #chaos.

Thus, if you are going to use a hashtag at all on Twitter (and perhaps on Facebook), just choose one or two that fit best with your message. Use any more than that, and you risk making your followers tune out your entire message.

With more image-driven posts, such as those on Instagram and Pinterest, you can elect to add a few more hashtags to your image captions. Just make sure that they are relevant to your image and/or your brand’s message. What’s more, make sure that they aren’t redundant. For instance, you don’t need #firework and #fireworks and #FIREWORKS in one of your posts from the 4th of July.

One of our favorite local hashtags to follow on Instagram for all things Columbus is one that's hosted by (614) Magazine and has grown in popularity over the years. At any given time you can check in on #asseenincolumbus and see some of the best pictures from around town as well as all current events happening in Columbus. Check it out, you might even find a new (or old) friend with an equal passion for our great city.

Use hashtags to promote a contest

Requiring contest entrants to include a hashtag on their social media contest entries allows you to keep track of everyone who’s entered your contest. Remember—just by clicking on a hashtag, you can pull up a stream of everyone else who has used that hashtag. Better yet, if your hashtag is something catchy or cool, it might draw the attention of people who have yet to hear about you.

Just keep it simple. (We used #CBUSfave for this month’s “Favorite Columbus Business” Bold Hive contest.) Use anything too complicated and people might accidentally type in the wrong hashtag in their contest entry.

Connect your business to a broader social media conversation

Nearly every conference and major event these days creates a relevant hashtag that attendees can use in their social media posts. So next time your business or brand will be present at a conference or event, find out the hashtag and start using it in your posts. Doing so will allow everyone else to find you and your brand’s message more easily.

Create a hashtag that connects current and potential fans back to you

There’s a reason that people use the term “viral” when it comes to all that’s popular and trendy on the Internet. Social media trends spread like a virus (but without the germs!) from one user to the next.

So let’s say you create a hashtag that represents your business or brand. It could even be something as simple as your company’s name or tagline. If your followers see you using that hashtag in your social media posts, they might start using it too. And then when their followers see them using that hashtag, they might either start using that hashtag or click on the tag itself to see who else is talking about you.

Soon, that global, searchable conversation about your business might be spreading around Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., all because of one little hashtag.

@boldhive: Which social media channel makes the best use of hashtags?

Bold Hive is always happy to help you navigate the world of social media so that you can leverage anything from hashtags to Facebook pages to brand new platforms to promote your business and amplify your message.