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How hashtags can boost your business

Hashtags are now ubiquitous. They provide momentum to global campaigns such as #MeToo, enabling people around the world to align their experiences and voices in an instantaneous way never seen before.  But they’re not just a political campaigning tool. They can help build your brand and your business, increasing recognition and engagement to create meaningful dialogue with people who, by their own posts and search preferences, have shown that they are potentially interested in what you have to offer. They can also help you research your competition or potential customers.   

What is a hashtag?

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.

How can hashtags benefit your business?

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.

Where are hashtags used?

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.

The success of hashtags as a search tool and for bringing people of shared interests together means they have now been adopted by Facebook and LinkedIn as well.

How to use a hashtag

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

Hashtag rules vary, depending on the platform on which you are using them:

  • Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn: You want to stick to just a couple of hashtags within a post – any more and you run the risk of ‘diluting’ the relevance of those who respond to your feed. Don’t be tempted to just chuck in random hashtags that aren’t relevant to your product or what you’re discussing either – you’ll merely run the risk of alienating people.
  • Instagram – You can use more hashtags, but again make sure they’re relevant to what you’re talking about. You can also use them as a way to attract individuals or brands who aren’t currently looking at your feed – for example a bespoke lampshade company might want to attract interior designers, so #interiordesign would be a great way of engaging with 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.

Based in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, Sharp Minds offers brand development, digital marketing, offline marketing and public relations to businesses across Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Greater London. You can see what our customers say about us here.

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