The # symbol, also called a hashtag, is by Twitter’s definition, “used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages.”Since its inception, the hashtag has become a fundamental tool in the facilitation and monitoring of conversation across social media.
The hashtag signifies a collective thought across multiple platforms, whether it be on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or any of the hundreds of other platforms out there.
At its core, a hashtag is simply a # symbol followed by a relevant word or a series of words. Hashtags make it easier for users to quickly search for tweets, status updates, or images. When searching for or clicking on a hashtag, platforms display content that has been tagged with the same phrase.
In theory, only those interested in a specific topic will be using the same hashtag.
Facilitating search and conversation
In it’s essence the hashtag is a discovery tool developed by Twitter (and adopted by the rest of the social world) to aid users in finding like-minded individuals to follow. Because Twitter is a public network, the hashtag serves as a powerful tool in engaging users and encouraging conversation.
The viral nature of hashtags have opened up opportunities for brands and marketers, extending a company’s web presence beyond websites and social profiles and into the consumer’s conversation space. Branded hashtags (for example MTV’s #FollowMeMTV) are becoming commonplace and businesses are beginning to see the value in putting resources into hashtag strategy.
Hashtag campaigns are about creating a platform for consumers to converse about and with the brand, while being able to monitor the conversation using the hashtag. Hashtag strategy isn’t necessarily about creating a marketing campaign centered around the hashtag itself, but rather about creating hashtags that center around a brand’s message. Unlike an advertising campaign, hashtags do not die out over time.
Branded hashtags and hashtag strategy
Hashtag strategies are not limited to branding hashtags. One of these alternative strategies is hashtag marketing. The Washington Post found value in using hashtag advertising to promote their own content, by sponsoring the hashtag #Elections as a trending topic on Twitter during the last US elections. As a result, the newspaper’s tweets appeared first when users searched #elections on election day.
Another hashtag strategy, common to bloggers and news aggregators, is to use hashtags as a means of crowdsourcing. By having fans and followers share content with their company’s hashtag, brands are able find and share content that’s relevant and shareable. Other common hashtag strategies include gaining follows and linkbacks with hashtag competitions and using hashtags to create buzz at events.
The hashtag is a powerful tool when used correctly, but can also agitate followers when used incorrectly. Below is a list of hashtag practices that are guaranteed to skyrocket you to being a #HashtagExpert!
Using hashtags correctly
- Remember that hashtags are public – anyone searching for that tag will be able to see your content.
- #Don’t #hashtag #spam #every #single #word. There is nothing more unpleasant than having to sift through an over-tagged update.
- Only hashtag relevant topics (a lesson learnt from Kenneth Cole’s #Cairo scandal).
- Use capital letters (#SociallySpeaking reads easier than #sociallyspeaking).
- Avoid using long hashtags. You will find great difficulty in facilitating conversation around something like #StevensLatestDigitLabBlogPost, as it leaves more room for error.
- Avoid abbreviations. #SS could be Socially Speaking, but could be a thousand other things too, which makes monitoring conversation nearly impossible.