One of the wonderful things about going to school while working at a local business is that I receive a strange and unusual mix of information that doesn't always fit together nicely. For instance, principles from the classroom often don't work as nicely in the real world as professors like to describe, or sometimes I'll learn something about marketing that just seems plain boring to my fellow classmates.
But every once in a while things really do connect. Recently, I was sitting in on a linguistic anthropology class focused on new media when a student brought in a current topic article for the class to discuss. It was Monday's New York Times, and the headline read: "Tweet This: 'Hashtag' Named Word of the Year."
At first I thought this seemed like an odd announcement. After all, hashtags are more than a year old. But then as I read the article, I realized all of the ways companies can use hashtags as a marketing tool. Just recently, the Associated Press announced that they will start using its Twitter account (and its hashtags) as a sponsored advertising tool. Similarly, many companies use hashtags as a way of building a base or creating a temporary meme.
Once you really start looking at the ways companies are constantly reinventing hashtags for potential gain, you begin to see why it might just deserve the distinction of "Word of the Year." Then, if you're a smart marketer, you'll take these new uses and put them to work for your own ventures.
So--here's the breakdown. After doing a little bit of research, I've found 6 top ways to make hashtags work better for you and your business. Try using them to help optimize your greater social media strategy.
1. Using hashtags can be like "Twitter SEO." This is an idea taken from a blog by Jeff Bullas. Often hashtags are compared to keywords that you use for your website. If you take this view, the important thing to remember with hashtags is to use a few that help build an identity for your Twitter presence. Changing hashtags is fine--and even appropriate at different points, but good optimization means choosing a group of really effective hashtags.
2. As a corollary to point 1, when thinking about hashtags, you need to be cautious about using them the same way you do keywords. Keywords are aimed at search--but hashtags are self-defined categories themselves. That's why I like to describe hashtags as 'keywords with creativity.' When you choose a group of hashtags that you want to use, don't just use #b2b or #inboundmarketing. Those are general terms that everybody is using. Better terms emphasize your brand, speak to your company's persona, and demonstrate your social savvy on social media.
3. After reading #1 and #2, it might seem like hashtag optimization is just more effort than it's worth. Well, don't worry because there are some cool online tools that can make a difference. Hashtagify.me is an awesome tool that many people are using to hone in on what kind of hashtags people are using, and what might be appropriate to keep their hashtags up to date. Think of Hashtagify.me as your Google Keyword Search Tool for Twitter. It has a nice visual interface that's easy to use, and you really get a picture of just how much creativity Twitter users are putting into their hashtags.
4. Hashtags have become more than just categorizers on sites like Twitter and Pinterest. Today, companies are using them to draw in prospective leads in increasingly creative ways. For example, hashtags have become one inexpensive way of running contests, games, or cause-oriented campaigns. Build your growing user base by offering a hashtag that people can use to compete for prizes, free services, etc. On Pinterest, these sort of contests come in the form of photo contests, but there are plenty of creative options out there.
5. Another way of using hashtags is to encourage Twitter engagement during special campaigns. For instance, if you're heading off to an exciting conference or business trip, why not create a fun hashtag that allows your fans to follow along. That's the type of narrative-oriented technique that really draws people in.
6. Lastly, the thing that really separates hashtags from other kinds of search terms is that people don't just use descriptors when they make hashtags. Often, creativity really does take over. While you need to reign in the number of hashtags your company uses, don't be afraid to broaden your approach to branding. For instance, a small construction company can do better than making a hashtag like #buildinghomes. A better one might be #buildingbeauty. The more unique it is, the more your company will be able to brand itself--but it's important to stay in the mainstream also.
So, you've probably had enough of hashtags for one day. But really, social media optimization is an on-going process that all of us must continue to work on. If you're looking for a strategic way of staying on top of change, take a look at our Playbook for Social Media Optimization.