A best practice guide to using a hashtag

Whether you’re using a hashtag on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram (all of which have slightly different rules) some basic principles apply to all social channels. Here we’ve highlighted some of the dos and don’ts of using a hashtag and three brands that use it to great effect.

  1. Do your research: you could think of the most amazingly catchy hashtag and launch a campaign to go with it only to find that it’s already been used by a competing brand, promoting a rival product or service. Worse still, the hashtag could have negative connotations associated with it. So it’s best to check out sites like Hashtag.org or Twubs.com to see what’s been used, what’s trending and advice on your hashtag of choice before taking the plunge.
  2. Keep it short and sweet: the hashtag is the most popular means of categorizing content on social media as well as making it discoverable. But you’ve got to keep its length snappy. The Guinness Book of Records may have awarded Paul Horner, from Phoenix Arizona, the award for creating the longest hashtag in 2013, but he didn’t win any prizes for its catchiness. Twitter recommends keeping the hashtag to six characters.
  3. Stick to using just one or two: any more than that is just confusing for your audience and is likely to be counterproductive for your brand and message. Better to use one or maybe two hashtags so that you can focus your marketing, PR and resources on them in order to gather momentum, rather than spread yourself too thin. A word of warning, more than eight hashtags in one post is perceived as hashtag spamming.
  4. Join in the trending conversations: hashtags are a great way of connecting and engaging with other social media users based on a common theme or interest. But if your Tweet, post or comment isn’t adding anything new or of substance to the wider conversation, you might want to consider leaving it off.
  5. Don’t include your brand name: there’s a kind of unwritten rule or etiquette around the hashtag, that is not to include your brand’s name in it. It’s just uncool, or seen as being a bit desperate. Build a hashtag around what your brand is known for. An obvious example, that has worked well, is Nike’s #Justdoit hashtag. The brand has capitalised on the slogan it’s been using since the late 1980s and better still, it’s become part of common parlance in the fitness world.
  6. Try to be intuitive: hashtags are supposed to make it easier to find content and engage with it, but complicated hashtags make things more arduous for the searcher, and will put people off using it. Go for a phrase that people will want to naturally search for.
  7. Don’t use the # on LinkedIn: hashtags are useful for organizing, analysing and emphasizing content. You can use them to put Tweets and other social media posts into categories by keyword. When you put the # in front of your keyword or phrase it becomes a hyperlink and when a user clicks on the hashtag it will show all other social media posts connected with it, except on LinkedIn, where the hashtag has no function or use.
  8. Always read and re-read before posting: or you could be left red-faced as Susan Boyle’s PR team were when they posted #susanalbumparty a few years ago. It should have been #SusanAlbumParty, but ended up going viral as users read it as #SusAnalBumParty. The team were quick to retract and recreate a new #SusanBoyleAlbumParty, but by then it’s was a bit too late. We’re still talking about the faux pas even today..

Three great examples of brands using hashtags

#sydneysecrets: Global travel brand Expedia has used unique hashtags for many of its recent campaigns. Its latest, #sydneysecrets, was set up as part of a user generated social campaign – inviting people to submit travel tips and reveal hidden gems from Sydney for a chance to win a trip to that destination. A sign of the strength of the hashtag is that people have adopted it and are still using it, despite the competition ending in 2015.

#1in7billion: Intel has launched its latest hashtag, #1in7billion, to promote its new True Key app, which enables internet users to log in to their online accounts using face recognition or fingerprints. It’s invited people to submit reasons why they are unique – either using video, imagery or plain text, and has carried this user generated content on a dedicated Flockler powered site.

#sheinspiresme: Created by Women for Women, a charity set up to provide practical and moral support to female victims of war, it hashtag campaign #sheinspiresme, which was unveiled last year, was aimed at recognising inspiring women from around the globe. Mothers, daughters, grandmothers and women in the public eye have used the hashtag to say who has inspired them, and why.

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