If you’re after a good example of something ‘ubiquitous’, how about the use of hashtags in brand marketing? These days the humble hashtag is everywhere, but a couple of recent conversations got me thinking that the various ways of using them across different social networks was worthy of a post.
The hashtag is a social media stalwart. It entered the mainstream through Twitter and today it’s firmly positioned itself in popular culture. For many years hashtags have appeared in offline marketing communications, often apologetically squeezed into the corner of an ad.
These days, take a look at any advertising and you’ll most likely see a hashtag front and centre. Many marketers can’t resist concatenating what would have historically been the tag line into what’s now the ‘hashtag line’, if you will .
Beyond hashtags as strap lines, how are they used across different social networks? It sounds simple [and mostly it is], but there’s still debate around different ways of using them.
1. Tapping into a trend
Best social networks for tapping into a trend: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn
The simplest of the lot. If there’s something happening in the world and a hashtag is gaining traction, there’s an opportunity to get involved. I was going to use #FridayFeeling, but this is going on instead…
The trick of course is not jumping in when you have absolutely no right or reason to do so.
2. Topic discovery
Best social networks: Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn
This is when a brand is posting specifically about something it does or sells, adding precise (albeit generic) hashtags. Let’s take sports brand Wiggle which sells cycling equipment; they’ve included #cyclingkit and #womenscycling to help show up in searches for those hashtags.
This behaviour of adding ‘discovery’ tags is particularly common practice on Instagram where you might see many hashtags added to a post for that reason.
I recently came across this blog post by Stephanie Gilbert on later.com, which also talks about finding which hashtags to use.
How many hashtags you should use is still hotly debated. So long as they’re sufficiently relevant I’d advocate using plenty on Instagram (at least 15) and one or two on Twitter. Some warn of using too many broad hashtags (e.g. cycling) which might attract more spammy interaction, and I agree it’s good to balance volume and specificity.
On Instagram, I’m relaxed about where hashtags go. I tend to put them in a separate comment against my own post, but adding them in the caption of the post itself [maybe divided with a few lines breaks] is also fine. Just don’t make the caption hard to read by placing a heap of hashtags directly after it.
There’s also one very important hashtag you’ll want to include in the post itself (see my next point) to help people understand the context of your post.
On Twitter, my preference is to include the hashtag within a sentence e.g. We’ve been supporting #womenscycling for over 20 years, rather than sticking them at the end.
A final consideration is whether a hashtag detracts from people clicking a link in a post. I’m not sure on this; I can’t ever remember getting lost down a hashtag rabbit hole instead of clicking an actual link, assuming it was of interest to me.
3. To emphasise a specific word
Best social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn
This is one of my favourite uses. On social networks there’s limited formatting you can do to a regular newsfeed post. You can use some “quotes” or maybe some **asterisks**, not too much else.
A hashtag is a nice alternative, especially as it changes colour to give more emphasis. Plus, it can help to make your campaign hashtag standout. You know, #JustSaying
4. As an entry mechanic
Best social networks: Instagram, Twitter
Finally, a hashtag is an extremely handy form of entry mechanic. Whether you want people to enter a competition or share some ‘user generated content’, a hashtag is super-handy. The fact hashtags now exist across social networks makes it simple to explain the entry mechanic to the audience – ‘just use this hashtag to enter’.
None of this is rocket science, and for most social media managers all very straightforward; perhaps there’s an angle or a way of using hashtags in your content you might not have considered?
Of course, I’m sure there are others. Please comment below so I can add options #5, #6 etc.