For many businesses, when we set up social media accounts, we often also set up a hashtag, too. And, there are plenty of brilliant reasons for companies to set up business-themed hashtags. If you are a bricks-and-mortar business, giving people a hashtag to share their experiences of your product or service autonomously is a great way to build community, share experiences or reviews. If you host events a hashtag can be an essential tool for real-time updates, or a tool for ‘Q and A’ sessions.
But hashtags are a bit trickier to understand for those new to social media, and hashtags are unique because they aren’t owned by a brand, so anyone can use them. Let’s look at the factors that you need to keep in mind if you’re thinking about setting up a hashtag for your business.
What is a hashtag?
A hashtag is a keyword or phrase, preceded by the # symbol. On social media, it’s used to connect related ideas in an environment where there are lots of disconnected conversation. For example, amongst thousands of tweets, if users label their own tweets with a hashtag, people can see it’s about a specific topic, for example, #election2019. This means that people can find just the tweets or Instagram posts talking about that specific topic, or people at the same event. Great examples of event hashtags are like #vividsydney2019.
Of course, hashtags also take on a life of their own, and have over time shifted to be used in a few other ways. Some are running jokes which have developed online, for example, #RemoveALetterToSpoilABook as a joke for anyone on Twitter to get involved with.
— another artist (@CourtneyPaints) May 12, 2016
Some people use a hashtag to geotag themselves:
While others use it to describe how they are feeling:
— Chiran (@ChiranPatel) November 9, 2016
At their core, hashtags are to connect related ideas in the dispersed world of the internet.
How do you choose a hashtag which works for your business?
How to choose a hashtag
The starting point with all hashtags is thinking about why you are using a hashtag in the first place – are you wanting to build community? To build a collection of case studies about your products (for example, Instagrammers using your products)?
Many people make a hashtag which is the same as their Twitter or Instagram handle – but sometimes the purpose of why you’re creating your hashtag can really shape why you choose a specific hashtag.
If you’re creating a hashtag to help facilitate conversation at an event, sometimes something straightforward is useful. Consider #vivid2019 as an example of this. You might be hosting a conference with different streams, and want to really focus the conversation in each room individually – for example, #wordcampsydtech.
If you’re using your hashtag to build a community, you might want to be a bit more playful. Labelling it as your business name really doesn’t encompass what you’re trying to do. Consider how the hashtag #LifeAtGA is much more effective as building a community that a generic hashtag of #GeneralAssembly.
— Amnah (@amnugh) October 31, 2016
Hashtags aren’t owned
One of the most important things is that a hashtag isn’t like a username – anyone can use them. You could even see it as that hashtags are owned by the community. And this doesn’t always mean it is owned by your community.
It is possible that people may use ‘your’ hashtag who aren’t associated with your business. These might be spammers, but could just as easily be people talking about products with a similar name on the other side of the world. It is important that before you choose a hashtag for your business, you search the hashtag across different platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and see if people are using it already.
You don’t want to choose a hashtag that is already in use because having two communities talking about separate things using the same hashtag is a recipe for chaos. Sometimes simply adding an additional description is a simple way to differentiate hashtags. From #exampleco, you might consider #examplecosyd or #examplecocorp.
Keep it simple, silly!
The latest data on mobile use shows that if people are on social media, they are very likely to be on mobile devices – between 70% and 90% depending on which report you read. This means your hashtag needs to be easy to type on a mobile device and easy to remember (because you need to be pretty dedicated to copy and paste on a mobile device).
Having a hard-to-remember acronym, something with a lot of characters or numbers throughout the hashtag makes it hard to type on mobile because you need to switch keyboards to do so. Consider on a mobile how much more challenging the hashtag #event12az1 is, compared to #event212, due to having to switch keyboards every second letter in the first example. Simply grouping the numbers together makes it much easier to type.
But if you can keep your hashtag reading less like a barcode the better. Not only can people remember it, but they are less likely to battle the autocorrect demons! Let’s face it – if autocorrect is playing havoc on your hashtag every time your audience types it, they will soon abandon the entire exercise!
So – keep it simple. Keep it short. Practise on mobiles. Make it easy to remember. And, if it’s a pun, rhyme or play on words – more power to you!
When hashtags go wrong…
It’s important to keep in mind that hashtags are often used in competitions as a way to submit entries. We often hear horror stories of people using hashtags to slam companies (the cases of #YourTaxis and #QantasLuxury being famed examples).
But I would argue that the issue isn’t with a company using a hashtag – but being unaware of how people will use their hashtag due to negative sentiment associated with their brand. The perception gap is a huge issue, especially for large companies. It’s important that you understand if you put your company out there for feedback, people will give it – both good and bad! It’s up to you to be open to both kinds of feedback and having a plan to work with whatever comes your way, whether it’s to positively engage your community or to manage complaints.
Ready to create a hashtag for your business? Great! Remember to think about your objective when you think about what hashtag you might use, test typing it on mobiles, research it to ensure it’s not already in use. Finally, be open to the creativity your community can bring to your business through a hashtag. Happy hashtagging! #YOLO
Originally published in November 2016, updated November 2018.
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About Rachel Beaney
Rachel Beaney is an Australian freelance social media specialist with over a decade in digital media. She’s worked with global names like Microsoft, Samsung, News Corp and General Assembly, in addition to not-for-profits and government bodies. She loves helping clients solve their business needs with creative and data-driven solutions. Get in touch today to jump on a free consultation call to find out how Rachel can help you.