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What are hashtags and how do you use them

Late Night funny man Jimmy Fallon and pop star Justin Timberlake hit a hilarious note last week with the short skit above. The skit points out how overused hashtags are in our online vernacular, and therefore how ridiculous we must all sound. Quest, front man for the show’s band, summed up at the end the sentiment towards the hashtag heavy.

While the skit pokes fun of well-earned online culture, it brings with it some basic questions that every marketing department should know.

What is a hashtag?

First developed by Twitter before also being adopted by Facebook, a hashtag is a word or several words that are preceded by the # symbol (eg. #marketing, #thishashtagistoolong). Once a hashtag is typed it becomes a hyperlink that is searchable for other users. This allows people to search for information or simply follow the hashtag itself to see all the content being published on that topic.

Why are hashtags so important to a company’s social media strategy?

In September 2013, there were 500 million people on Twitter sending a total of 400 million tweets per day. With the tidal wave of information being published on Twitter every day, hashtags serve as a social media network’s search engine in a way, making a business’ content easier for other users to find. It is essential that businesses target their content to their client personas and this technique allows them to do this very effectively. This will help businesses gain a large consumer following interested in their product or service. Also, it gives small businesses the ability to see what its competition is doing as well.

How do I choose which hashtag to use?

There are a long list of possible hashtag options for any business, but it is important to do some research before you move forward. Search Twitter for potential hashtags you could use. It is important that the hashtag be widely used, as few characters as possible. Ensure the content associated with that search is appropriate and will not harm your brand – nothing is worse than finding out that your content has become associated with something damaging to your business. Do not start your own hashtag – they are only effective if users know to use them. Visit the accounts of your competition to see which ones they are using and think about using the same.

If you are trying to reach out to a local market, using that city’s abbreviation of aviation code as a hashtag is always a safe choice (eg. #NYC, SFO, LDN.)

Some things to avoid?

  • Don’t use hashtags on Facebook. While the social networking platform has adopted their use, studies show that their use could be hurting brands that use them
  • Never use more than two hashtags in tweet. If you have more, users will assume you are trying to spam them with your content. You have use several different hashtags, just not at the same time. But if you want your brand to sound like Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake did in the now viral skit, go ahead.

Please tweet responsibly! Is there advice you’d like to share on how to use hashtags? Is there something else that really annoys you about their use? Share in the comments below.

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About Greg Markey

Greg is a social media and digital marketing consultant who loves writing about business, technology, innovation and startups. He holds a degree in political science and history from St. Francis Xavier University, as well as a diploma in Journalism from Algonquin College. He lives in Edmonton with his wife and three kids..

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