I wonder how long it will be before we hear, “For directory assistance, please press hashtag.” The pound sign is out and the hashtag is in! If you’ve spent anytime on social media you’ve no doubt seen english words and phrases preceded by the pound sign. You may even be using hashtags in your social media posts without even really knowing why! Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. The majority of people we’ve talked to about using hashtags don’t really know what they are or how to best use them. They’re just imitating what they see others doing online.
This is perfectly acceptable for your personal page or if you just post for fun, but if you’re a business that is interested in leveraging the powers of social media it’s important to understand what hashtags are and how you can use them to spread your content.
What is a #hashtag?
If you’re new to the social media marketing game hashtags might seem like a strange language only to be understood by teens and millennials. So let’s think about it in the context of something we’re all familiar with, manilla folders. If you were to place a label titled “Meeting Notes” on your manilla folder then you’d expect all the papers stored inside to be related to meeting notes.
Hashtags are labels used to group content on social media outlets like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. By adding ‘#’ in front of a word you automatically create a link that can be followed to other content that has been “tagged” with the same word. By using hashtags in your posts you are essentially adding documents inside a manilla folder.
Why would you use hashtags?
The primary reason content creators use hashtags is so other more popular creators will find and share their work. Photographers use them as a way to promote their photography on Instagram to specific users. By adding a hashtag to your post you’re increasing the likelihood that your content will be picked up and shared by others.
Many popular accounts create specific hashtags to engage their users. For example, Southern Living Magazine has created #MySouthernLiving. Someone in the marketing department at Southern Living is monitoring this hashtag. When they are looking through the filtered results and see an image they like they will in turn share it to their account. You have now just gotten your image in front of Southern Living’s 894k followers!
Add #MySouthernLiving to your post for a chance to get your image in front of 894k viewers!
In one of the Facebook Groups we manage, Natural Pamlico, during the month of April we asked our members to submit photographs of people around Pamlico County, NC and include in the post the hashtag #pamlicopeople. You can search Facebook for specific hash tags so when a user enters #pamlicopeople into the search bar you will see all the posts that have been tagged. This is a specific tag so it’s likely that the results will all be from our group. This is a fun way to look back on all the posts at the end of the month. If you were holding a contest using hashtags is a great way to filter the submissions and make it easier to select the winners.
All the posts on Facebook that have been tagged with #PamlicoPeople.
How do you use hashtags?
Now that you have a better understanding of what they are and why to use them how do you use hashtags? Anyone can create a hashtag. All you have to do is add ‘#’ in front of a word and BAM! You just created a hashtag. Using hashtags to effectively promote your content requires an understanding of your target audience. Before going hashtag crazy ask yourself a few questions.
Who do I want to reach?
What do I want them to see?
What do I want them to do?
Reaching the right audience
If you own a Bed & Breakfast in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina and want to attract more guests this summer you’re probably going to want and target the #vacation audience. Of course using #vacation probably won’t get you any bookings because it’s too broad. Think about how a potential user would find posts related to visiting your region? What would they search for? A good starting place would be the location name like #atlanticbeach which currently has 101k posts.
The top results on Instagram tagged #atlanticbeach.
To be more specific you could use #atlanticbeachnc which currently has only 11k posts.
Specific hashtags generate fewer results but may lead to your target audience.
More specific hashtags expose your post to fewer people but they might be your target audience. Are the people searching for #atlanticbeach looking for Atlantic Beach, NC or Atlantic Beach, FL? By adding the ‘nc’ you’re certain which Atlantic Beach your users are looking for.
Showing the right subject matter
Hashtags aren’t used exclusively for categorizing content. They can also be used to provide context and direction to the viewer. Keeping with the above example if you just posted a beautiful sunrise as seen from the front porch of your inn consider using #frontporchview instead of the obvious #sunrise. The strategy here is to get the viewer focused on what you want them focused on which is not the sunrise but the view of the sunrise from YOUR front porch.
Hashtags don’t have to be used just for grouping content. They can convey context too!
Creating a Call to Action
Calls to Action (CTA) are components of a post or webpage that direct the user to do something. They often come in the form of a clickable link or button that converts the user to a new customer or client. Create a hashtag in your post that describes what you want your viewer to do. In the B&B example you want them to make a #reservation. Remember from above that adding the ‘#’ in front of words creates a link and link text is almost always going to be a different color than the surrounding text. This is a subtle way to emphasize what you want the viewer to do. People want to buy and they don’t want to be sold to. Capturing a beautiful image that makes the viewer feel like they could be there and adding a subtle reminder that they could be there may just convert that person into a new booking.
Use hashtags creatively and provide a subtle reminder what you want the viewer to do.
After reading this I hope you have a better understanding of how to use hashtags to promote your content. They are a practical and fun way to demonstrate you understand your audience and that you’re actively trying to earn their business. Hashtags are also a great way to promote your creative works, especially for photographers. The key to an effective hashtag campaign is understanding how your target audience consumes content. One way to find out is to see what your competition is doing then try to do it better! It’s also important to remember that hashtags, no matter how clever or strategic, are only going to be as good as the content they’re associated with. You should always strive to create the best content possible and work tirelessly to continuously improve it.