BBC uses a hashtag to interact with viewers. Photo by dan taylor.
“Hashtags” are the content “tags” used in social media, denoted by a hash mark (#) at the front end of a word, or series of words. Much like the content tags you see in the right column, or at the bottom of this post, they can be used on social media services like Twitter and Instagram to filter content by subject or to make your own content more searchable.
How do I select a hashtag?
There’s no process for registering a hashtag, but there are two things to keep in mind when selecting a one: brevity and uniqueness. No one wants to type out 25 extraneous characters. Keep it short and sweet. And always check to make sure the tag you want isn’t already being used, or your audience will have a harder time reaching your content exclusively. There’s nothing to prevent someone else from using the same tag, so use yours early and often.
One of the best ways companies and associations can utilize hashtags is in conjunction with conferences or other events. The first time I saw one used widely was at the Society for Environmental Journalists annual conference in late 2008. I attended a panel on using Twitter to engage with journalists, and I noticed when checking my Twitter feed from my laptop (in the days before my phone could connect to the Internet), that journalists were using #SEJ08 to denote tweets about the sessions they were attending. I could search for #SEJ08 and see a bevy of content being generated about panels and speakers all over the conference, and it led me to discover new sessions to attend that week.
Now, virtually every event has a hashtag, even if it’s just to corral guests’ candid wedding photos on Instagram. If you want your industry event to be successful, whether it’s a multi-day conference or an awards dinner, carefully selecting a branded tag that allows attendees to quickly find content related to the event is a critical component of your event’s marketing strategy. They are even useful for aggregating content you want to review later: a few years ago, PCG staff used a special tag when tweeting thoughts about sessions during an offsite business meeting, and tagged tweets were broadcast on a screen in the room. This allowed staff to see - in real time - ideas and reactions about presentations without interrupting presenters, and helped extend the dialogue about lessons learned beyond the conference room.
#Content and #Branding
Hashtags are primarily used for denoting the subject matter of social media content. There are two strategies:
- Filtering content: making your content easier to find for potential clients/customers/audience members. For example: a tweet about this post by PCG might include: #advice, #pr, #branding, etc. This makes your content more searchable by people looking for branding advice.
- Grouping content: branding your content by grouping it together with a unique hashtag. In this case, you may have a team of employees with personal Twitter accounts who want to tweet thoughts about their work. They would all use a single hashtag like #PCGstrategy to aggregate their thoughts quickly and easily.
In the first instance, you want to use hashtags that are specific, but common. Say you are posting about a service that your company provides. In PCG’s case, that might include media training. If we Tweeted about the work we do with the U.S. Coast Guard, we might include: #media, #training, #mediatraining, #coastguard, and #USCG. That way, anyone searching for information on media training could find us more easily, and someone searching for tweets about the US Coast Guard would see that PCG works with them.
For branding your content, you want to use fewer hashtags, specifically one or two that are unique to your company or project. Nike has an extensive social media presence, with separate accounts for its different sports divisions, and sponsored athletes who post engaging, inspirational content daily. Besides tagging things with the obvious #Nike, the company often uses its tagline #noexcuses when talking about a legendary player, or even a buzz-worthy play. Short, memorable taglines like “No Excuses” make for great hashtags, letting anyone know right away that your content is your own.
There are few other things to keep in mind when creating or selecting a hashtag:
- Keep it short: It should be noted that while Twitter now allows for “expanded tweets” over 140 characters, brevity is still best. For an event, the acronym for your event plus numbers for the year, or a succinct motto are an excellent starting point.
- Make it memorable: For those of you who enjoy a good pun or a bit of alliteration now is your time to shine! Even simple portmanteaus are a popular and effective method for creating a hashtag.
- Pay attention: What tags are your clients or members using? What about potential clients, or audiences you want to reach? Use TweetDeck or other free, simple social media management tools to keep tabs on what tags are popular with the people you want to connect with: then use them.
- Make them public: Keep in mind that your social media content is only as searchable as it is public. Using a hashtag on your personal Facebook page won’t make a post automatically public – your content is still only as available as your security settings allow. But if you want to reach people you haven’t met yet, go public: and let the world find you.