2 In Digital Marketing/ Social Media

The Ultimate Guide to Using Hashtags Effectively

the ultimate guide to using hashtags effectively for your business

One of the most commonly asked questions I get as a Digital & Social Media Marketing Consultant is “Kate, what’s the deal with hashtags and how can my business leverage them?”.

Everyone seems to love a good hashtag. Whether they’re #UsingItSarcasticallyToProvideAnAfterthought or they #just #simply #are #not #quite #sure #how #they #work I’m going to break down just how to use hashtags to promote your business.

So when it comes to creating a hashtag for your business there are really two ways to do this.

1) Branded Hashtags:

A “branded hashtag” is usually your brand name or is a name that is associated with your brand name in some way (sometimes a play on words or a unique feature associated with your brand).

It is generic and it is primarily promoted to customers as “the” hashtag to use whenever talking about the brand online. This could be people sharing photos of the product, contributing to a conversation (#TheProjectTV), providing feedback or promoting the brand in the content.

The Recommendation:

If you have a product centric business, you’re a content publisher who is gaining traction or you’re about to invest a significant chunk of your marketing budget on above the line mediums, creating a branded hashtag is a good idea for you.

Promote it across all of your channels and make it clear that people can reach you through using the hashtag.

If you have a product, encourage people to share their experience with it online and even go one step further by asking them if you can “feature” their content on your social media channels (it will help you build on your brand-customer relationship and they will continue to promote your brand accordingly).

Ultimately, we want people to feel that through sharing (using the hashtag) they become part of a community. And we all know that having a community is so much more powerful than having a “Facebook page” that you use to have a one way conversation with your consumers.

2) Campaign Hashtags:

Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to use a “branded hashtag”. Usually because the content that you’re promoting or encouraging users to share is more specific to a “sub niche” or topic of discussion. It is for this reason that “Campaign hashtags” are created.

Campaign hashtags are typically more common than branded hashtags and are created to drive and facilitate discussion around a particular topic.

This might be if you’re a brand who is running a competition, encouraging users to share their experience with a particular product (one in particular) or even running an event where you want people to be able to “weigh in” on the conversation. Maybe you’re a content publisher (blogger, YouTuber etc.) and you’re encouraging the people who are part of your community to share their experiences with one another in a “challenge” you have set.

Whatever it is, the “campaign hashtag” is created to facilitate discussion around a niche topic.

Now, there is a huge difference between a “campaign hashtag” that goes viral and one that doesn’t. But you may not want it to go viral. If you’re running a small local event you may only be interested in having people participate in the discussion who have attended the event however, if you are a brand launching completely grass-roots and you’re totally banking on an ability to birth a new brand via social media, you need to follow a set of guidelines to ensure your “campaign hashtag” really takes off and the “social sharing” snowball gets-a-rollin’.

In my experience as a social media consultant, I’ve witnessed hashtags that take off and hashtags that don’t. Now please note that I consider a “viral hashtag” to be one that completely consumes your target market. Not necessarily one that makes the “trending” list on Twitter. After all, it depends on your objective, but if you were hoping to engage a large percentage of your target audience and you were able to do so organically, through the use of a carefully selected hashtag, that’s considered a “viral campaign” to me.

Now back to the guidelines. There are a particular set of rules a brand can follow in order to give their “campaign hashtag” the best possible chance to go “viral”. And I’m going to share them with you now.

Ready? OK.

Essentially the hashtag needs to be able to quickly and easily provide a set of instructions “at a glance” as to how a user may be able to participate in the conversation (think: #ShareACoke or #5WordsToRuinADate or the latest campaign hashtag chosen for one of my clients, #IMoveBecause).

So let’s take the example of #IMoveBecause. We chose this hashtag because we wanted absolutely anyone who saw it to think: “I know how to participate in that conversation” and to be able to do so. Since we are effectively starting a sentence and the keyword we chose to incorporate was “move” (i.e. “active” or “exercise”) we knew that anyone who saw this hashtag would be able to think of the reason they themselves move/are active and knew how to share this with the community if they felt so inclined to do so.

It would be ideal of course, to try to get some aspect of your brand in a “campaign hashtag” but this isn’t always possible. The #ShareACoke campaign managed to do this however they had quite heavily invested in offline integration (in fact, the entire “sharing” component was offline, they were just trying to encourage others to take a photo and share on social media – which they did and it was wildly successful for them).

We’ll talk about how the best “social” campaigns start offline another day… (that’s a whole other conversation).


The Recommendation: If you own your own brand, you will ideally create a branded hashtag for everyday use (refer to above) however if you’re running a competition, a specific promotional campaign, a challenge, or perhaps you’re delving into a particular topic you would like users to talk about; in this instance a “campaign hashtag” is for you.

Let’s say for example: you’re a content publisher (a blogger, YouTuber etc.) and you’re promoting an experience. Perhaps you’re encouraging a new diet, promoting a minimalism challenge – it could be anything! Create your “campaign hashtag” taking into consideration the guidelines above and include a call to action in your video to have people “share their experience” with the rest of the community through using the hashtag.

In the same breath (to further increase the likelihood of the user incorporating the hashtag into their post) encourage them to check out the other submissions from the people in the community.

Keep in mind, no matter what “set of instructions” you choose for your “campaign hashtag”, that it can “at a glance” explain what a user needs to do in order to participate in the conversation.

It needs to be so clear, that it will also gain traction from users who see the hashtag (but not necessarily know to which brand or creator the hashtag is associated with). They need to be intrigued enough to entice them to “click” on the hashtag.Then (through scrolling through the other content shared by your community) they can often get introduced to your brand and campaign topic.

ffectively we’re trying to cause this to happen: How to use hashtags OK so that’s when it comes to creating a hashtag for your brand to use. “What about when we need to choose other hashtags to use?” you ask? OK let’s break this down too while we’re here.

Choosing The Right Hashtags to Leverage:

As much as I can enjoy a good hashtag used as a #totallyscarcasticafterthought, we are probably both aware that using hashtags like this is not likely to help your post to gain any additional traction (in the way that hashtags are meant to be used). Let’s go back to basics for a second… hashtag definition So in order to leverage hashtags, we first need to identify those that are likely to help us to gain the traction we would like. It’s important to note of course that every brand has different objectives.Some wish to post content that serves a niche group of people (and they want to stay within that niche), while others hope to gain as much traction as possible (from the RIGHT people).

So before we start researching which hashtags are commonly used by the members of our target market segments, we need a very solid understanding of who our target market is and their attributes (since we’re about to attempt to “step into” their minds in a minute).

If you’re not 100% certain exactly who your audience is, or if you just want a bit of a refresher you can download my free “Get clear on your content strategy” workbook.

OK so bring your target market segments (and their attributes) to the forefront of your mind.

Got them?

OK it’s research time.

Try to put yourself in the shoes of your target market. What content would they like to consume?

If you find this a bit hard to do,  you can always research your target market to try to see what kinds of hashtags they use when naturally posting content on particular topics.That being said, some hashtags may be clicked on or searched for more than they are used by a segment when posting (for example, I may love to consume content around “healthy living” yet a rarely post about it from my own channels). Just something to consider.

Essentially, we want to find a careful balance here between the hashtags that your target audience naturally search for/engage with, and those that are relevant to your product/service/brand.

Now it’s one thing to find hashtags that are extremely relevant and used by some members of your target market, but if the hashtags are barely used (very few posts appear when searching for this hashtag) then they may not be worth incorporating into the hashtag “real estate” on your post.

Some great ways to find hashtags that are likely to be useful to you is to simply Google “copy and paste hashtags for [INSERT INDUSTRY/TOPIC NAME HERE]”.

Speaking of which, if you’re looking for some “Blogging” and “Small Business” related hashtags, feel free to find a bunch of my preferred hashtags here.

Outside of this, the best way of finding hashtags is honestly just by searching for them.

The bad news? It will take you a while to find them. Sorry there’s just no sugar coating it.

The good news? Once you find them you can quickly and easily save them down in the “notepad” on your phone or desktop and simply “copy and paste” each time you need to post something on your social media channels.

I would recommend initially researching to find around 10 hashtags that work well for you so that you always have a “bank” of great hashtags to refer to. Moving forward from there, you can always add to your collection as time goes on and as you see hashtags being commonly used by the members of your community.

Of course depending on the channel you are posting from, you may have the option to use a few or LOTS of hashtags. On Twitter for example, I would stick to no more than 3 hashtags. In fact, I usually will only use two. You only have 140 characters to start with. You want to be able to say something valuable, provide a link to more information AND use a hashtag or two so others can find it.That’s a lot of information to convey in an SMS sized note.

On Instagram you can incorporate hashtags to your hearts content. That being said, I would say that once you hit > 10 hahstags, it’s starting to look a bit overkill (IMHO).

Now I quite literally haven’t spoken to anyone who doesn’t believe that hashtags on Facebook aren’t a “thing”. To be honest (from a personal perspective) I agree. That being said, for some reason my posts will almost always gain more traction when I incorporate one or two. Coincidence? Maybe, but I’m not arguing with data so I will continue to use them. Let me know in the comments if you have different results. 

Trending Topics:

The second way to leverage hashtags for your business is to jump on a “trending topic”. In this case, it’s really important to understand what your key messaging pillars are (i.e. the key messages your brand is trying to convey within your storytelling/communications).

If you’re struggling to work out what these pillars might be, I show you exactly how to identify them for your business in my free “Get clear on your content strategy” workbook.

As long as you can find a trending hashtag that either by default, ties in well with one of your key messaging pillars, or alternatively, you can creatively find a way to tie it in, then jumping on a “trending hashtag” can be a great way to gain additional exposure organically.

It just requires a quick check down the left hand side of Twitter each morning to see what is “trending” and decide whether or not you can make it work.

So those would be my recommendations on using hashtags effectively. If you would like to use them sarcastically then by all means. I will admit that in some cases they can sort of “add” to the message the post is trying to convey but in terms of driving you new reach, followers and engagement – it’s not likely.

I want to know what works for YOU. The beauty of social media is that while there are best practice guidelines we can follow, some communities just respond differently. If you have found any interesting insights around hashtags that you use I would absolutely love to hear about them in the comments below.

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  • Jenny
    February 9, 2016 at 1:07 pm

    Good tips to follow! Definitely something to think about not just in a corporate standpoint.

  • Jess | Make and Do Crew
    February 9, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    Thank you for the THOROUGH post. It makes me want to go read a bunch more of your posts because I can tell you are going to share valuable content. This is my first time to your blog and I found you via Blogging Boost (I’m pretty sure :)

    (As I reread this comment, I sound almost like a spammer because I’m being complimentary and vague. Ha. Well, I’m not a spammer, just impressed by the effort you put into this article about hashtags.)