We know what you’re thinking – how to hashtag? Surely everyone knows how to hashtag?
Well, yes and no. Of course, hashtagging is simple enough that anyone with a Twitter account can use one, but it is this very fact that means we should probably pay extra attention to our ‘tags and how we use them; if they’re easy to use, then they’re also easy to misuse. Hashtags are a great addition to a social media post, but used haphazardly – or worse, inappropriately (Seriously, Google ‘brand Twitter fails’) – they can seriously detract from your tweet, and even your brand image.
So here is our guide on how to hashtag…
Hashtag: a history
Firstly, it’s important to understand what a hashtag is and how it got there. Surprisingly, despite its simplicity, the hashtag is an ever-evolving creature. Initially used to categorise content on Inter Relay Chats in the 80s and 90s, the pound sign (now more commonly, the hashtag) was first used in its more modern sense when designer Chris Messina asked his followers if they wanted to use the symbol to group their discussions. Twitter eventually adopted the hashtag in 2009-2010, automatically hyperlinking hashtagged items and introducing Trending Topics.
From there, the hashtag as we know it today developed. No longer was the symbol used purely to group discussions, but to spread information, make it searchable, and harness the potential of viral posts.
What do hashtags mean?
This depends. The use of hashtags has spread far beyond Twitter, meaning that its significance varies vastly based on how and where it is used. Not only are hashtags now used on pretty much all major social networking sites – including Facebook – we even see hashtags being used physically. Consider, for example, how the hashtag in below image of Michelle Obama might suggest a sense of community and grouping together, without the hashtag hyperlinking through to other members of the same community, as we might find on Twitter.
Intuitively, we understand hashtags slightly differently depending on its context. Hashtags in print ads might simply be a way of making a slogan seem catchy and relevant (although it might also be used on social media), whereas a Twitter hashtag for a convention has a very different function – to facilitate conversation between the eventgoers.
Understanding hashtags and their contextual meanings means that you’re better placed to know what hashtag to use and how to use it.
How to create a great hashtag
Firstly, consider what your hashtag is for. If it’s a social media campaign, you can possibly get a bit more creative as your hashtag doesn’t need to be sustained forever. However, it also needs to be easily understood – think creative, not complicated.
A great example of a simple but creative hashtag is O2’s 2015 #WearTheRose campaign for their sponsorship of the Rugby World Cup. This hashtag was creative enough to generate curiosity, but by using the hashtag on many platforms – including their television ad and even on O2 shop fronts – its meaning was pretty easy to understand. Additionally, the nature of the hashtag meant that fans were easily able to engage with the campaign and tweet pictures of themselves wearing their rugby shirts.
Remember, a hashtag needs to stand out, but also be pretty easy to identify. Therefore, it can’t be too short, and it can’t be too long. For example, #DG doesn’t give away enough information and a search brings up lots of results, but #DigitalGlueAgencyBirmingham just isn’t catchy. Try settling for something in the middle.
Side note – think carefully about your choice. We all remember the disaster that Susan Boyle’s PR team created with their hashtag #susanalbumparty…
Hashtags are more than just being seen
Depending on what you want to achieve, how you use your hashtag in a tweet is massively important.
One fantastically simple way to get noticed is by dropping a relevant hashtag into your tweet. So if you’re using a keyword to target people searching for a specific hashtag, try picking the words most likely to be searched. But before you do – choose carefully! A tweet that reads like the following, while likely to be seen by more people, probably won’t get many follow ups. Why? Because it’s obvious you care more about clicks than content. It’s vital that not only are you being seen by the right people – but that they like what they see.
Another way to increase your reach is to use relevant and trending hashtags. Sometimes (read: most of the time) they’re probably best left alone, unless they’re relevant to your brand. You don’t want to end up damaging your reputation by jumping on a bandwagon you don’t really need to, like Homebase did with this tasteless tweet. Yes, lots of people talked about it, but for all the wrong reasons…
On the other hand, taking inspiration from trending ‘tags isn’t always a bad idea. With a pinch of creativity, you can end up with something golden, like American chain Cinnabon did on that all important holiday, Star Wars day…
Ultimately, knowing how to hashtag isn’t just about simply putting #s wherever you can – anyone can do that. It’s really all about context; how, where, and when you use a hashtag can significantly – whether disastrously or fortunately – change its meaning. And that could change the way in which your brand is perceived.