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The # symbol essentially serves as a way of marking – or ‘tagging’ – certain words so they’ll come up as a search term. Google #nextprimeminister, and you’ll be led to a list of comments on Twitter covering that topic, enabling you to spot trends, find out what people are saying and even - if you’re brave enough – to enter the debate.
All this can be incredibly useful if you’re searching for a brand, whether your own or a rival’s. Note though that how high up you’ll appear on a hashtag page will depend on how often people look at your post, how popular it is (have you already had lots of likes and comments?) and how strong your audience is.
Big brands have been using hashtags effectively for years, and their examples can provide useful insights for smaller companies. For instance, the #shareacoke campaign caused a surge in sales of Coca Cola when it was linked with ‘named’ labels on the drink – consumers rushed to post pictures of relevant bottles (“Look! It’s got my name on it!” Or “look, the label says ‘MOM’ and I’ve just had a baby!”).
The result was not only a massive buzz generated around the idea – and, by association, the brand – but millions of dollars-worth of free publicity. And when consumers post their own stories in relation to the hashtag, they’re creating user-generated content (UGC) – a form of marketing that, for self-explanatory reasons, saves big companies an enormous amount of time and money.
Most people will associate hashtags primarily with Twitter – hardly surprising given that, since the platform first launched back in 2006, its entire search site algorithm has been based on hashtags. However, they’re used extensively on Instagram too – you may well have noticed a list of hash-tagged words at the end of posts. Given that Instagram is such a visual medium peopled by influencers, using hashtags here is a great way to build a brand via association or ideas.
To increase your chances of being found on a social media platform, you can either use a hashtag based on specific phrases that have subtle connections to your brand or that promote a key offer. For example a holiday company might use either #makingmemories or #funinthesun, or they could go for the more direct approach depending on what it is that they’re selling, such as #weekendinMadrid. Either way, the hashtag will be driving online traffic to its door.
It’s worth researching the hashtags with which your target audience is engaging to increase the chance of them finding you. For example, if you offer a service to innovative businesses, hashtagging #innovation #startup #entrepreneur and #business on a social media post will immediately widen the ways in which those not already looking at your posts can be driven to do so.
And, as you’ve seen from the above examples, if your hashtag is a phrase rather than a single word, you need to write it as one word.
Hashtag rules vary, depending on the platform on which you are using them:
With all hashtags, the aim of the game is to keep them on message and not to over-indulge. If you’re not sure why you’ve chosen a particular hashtag – don’t use it! Get them right, and you should see a positive impact on your follower numbers and engagement, so improving your brand awareness and loyalty.