You see it all the time. A company or a person posts a Tweet or an Instagram post that links to a piece of content, followed by a dozen (or unbelievably, sometimes more) hashtags. If you’re at all like me there might have been a point where you wondered — “What is that really doing for them?”
Most of the time, the answer is simply: nothing. However, that isn’t meant to be a statement on the effectiveness of hashtags in general. Hashtag usage can be extremely rewarding, but only when it’s done in a smart way. Forward-thinking social sellers, digital marketers and social media managers can benefit from the audience and awareness growth that hashtag marketing brings to the table.
In this article, we’ll explain what hashtags are, why they work with audiences, and we’ll cover some of the typical strategies used in hashtag marketing to grow the reach of social updates.
Why Do Hashtags Work?
When Twitter first debuted hashtags, I’m not certain that they fully understood the magnitude of what they created and the widespread uses their feature would receive. The feature still acts as it did when it was first launched, although Twitter has bolstered up the systems around it to make hashtags easier to engage with. The feature was so popular that it was eventually adopted by other social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn — making it a key feature in the social marketing world.
Initially, hashtags were created for content tagging. When you share a piece of content, you can tag it with a relevant #hashtag, which will make it easier for people to search for this keyword on the respective platform. That is still true today, despite the ballooning number of ways that users use them.
Today, hashtags help users in a few key ways:
- Content Tagging. The original purpose hashtags were created for. The most common use of hashtags is still for the use of signaling content categories and topics. It helps to make topics easier for users to find.
- Community. Hashtags have become so large that communities pop up around their use. If you were to search for #MariahCarey, #JustinBieber, or any other popular musician, you’d likely see a smorgasbord of fans (and not-so-fans) discussing them on any of the popular social networks.
- Events. Any large event can be searched for and discussed using specific hashtags on social networks.The #SuperBowl hashtag is a great place to see discussions during the big game. In a B2B sense, industry awards ceremonies and conferences are great examples of events that have hashtags pop up around them.
- Conversational hashtags. Ever see a hashtag around a specific topic for more in-depth conversation. You see it all the time on Twitter, where discussions arise around topics that influencers push to their audience.
Studies have shown that Tweets and Facebook posts that include 1-2 hashtags typically receive more engagement than those with zero or those with 3 or more.
Hashtags work because they are helpful. Social networks are inherently very messy. There is a lot of noise, with thousands of users sharing their thoughts on different topics any given second. Hashtags help us to break through that noise and find our niche and the conversation we’re interested in. They give us a way to easily discuss the topics that are important to use and find that island of community in the sea of social networking.
Now let’s dive into the different hashtag marketing strategies that are most commonly used to grow the reach and presence of a social post or topic. In each section, I’ll provide examples of popular brands using each method to get the gears turning on how you might be able to integrate hashtag marketing into your own business.
Types of Hashtags to Use
Using hashtags isn’t enough. If you aren’t smart in the way that you use them, you’ll see no more engagement than your typical hashtag spammer does. Finding smart and effective ways to use hashtags will not only expand the reach of your social posts but will help to improve your brand awareness overall as you consistently appear in specific industry-related hashtags.
In this section, we’ll cover the different types of popular hashtag marketing strategies we see continually delivering results to brands.
Trending hashtags are perhaps the most common hashtag marketing strategy and arguably the most impactful when done well. The trending hashtags that show up on Twitter and Facebook drive a lot of eyeballs to the posts that perform well and use those hashtags. For most companies, the trending hashtags will rarely align with their business or service, but keeping a close eye on them can yield creative opportunities to tie your brand to a current trending topic.
The brand exposure can be astronomical if you are in the right place at the right time. This can’t be shown any more clearly than during news events that trend, when news publications often have the most popular Tweets in the category.
Let’s look at an example
Do you remember the Pokemon Go craze? Pokemon Go was a Pokemon mobile game that allowed players to catch Pokemons out in the real world using a GPS system. The game was a huge hit and had brought in more than $1.8 billion in sales by Summer 2018, just two years after its release.
The game was trending on every social network. That fact was not lost on Warby Parker, a prescription eyeglasses company. While their business may seem wholly unrelated to the Pokemon Go trend, they found a simple way to make the most of the hashtag and use it to their advantage:
Nothing earth-shattering in terms of engagement, but a simple post with a few digitally-added Pokemon in their office with some of the employees caught a small wave on the trending #PokemonGo hashtag and got them noticed. This example is great because it shows a fun side of their team that customers don’t usually get to see as well.
Community hashtags can be a great way to connect with a very specific audience. Some might say that they are another version of branded hashtags because many influential brands have communities that pop up around them.
Using our earlier example, a quick search of the #JustinBieber hashtag pulls up a long list of fans celebrating the person and the music and a few voicing their dislike as well:
It comes as no surprise. People are always sharing their opinions on Twitter. Let’s look at a brand example. Nike is a company with a lot of fans. At any given time, there are dozens of loyal supporters discussing Nike products, advertisements, and news on Twitter.
These brands see genuine communities grow around their brand and products. Often, brands will use their own name as a hashtag in an attempt to get a sort of social media community growing around their brand. While this strategy will only work for companies that have passionate and loyal customers, it can be a great way to help people find information about your company regardless.
One example of a smaller company using this hashtag marketing strategy comes from West Elm, a furniture and home decor company. They tag all of their Instagram photos with the #MyWestElm hashtag and ask that their followers to do the same when sharing pictures of their furniture.
This allows the company to showcase a variety of styles in their products and provides would-be customers with social proof that their products are loved and appreciated by their customers.
While the West Elm example highlights a long-term branding approach to social media, there are shorter, more focused ways to use hashtag marketing to grow your social presence. Campaign hashtags are used as part of a social media marketing campaign or contest. They typically have a start and end date — however long the company will be running a particular campaign.
Some of the common types of hashtag campaigns that we see having success socially typically promote things like:
- New products
One excellent example of a company promoting a cause through a hashtag campaign comes from Divine Chocolate USA, who used the hashtag #BCorpMonth to celebrate B Corporations, which are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, transparency, and legal accountability.
While marketing hashtag campaigns have a limited lifespan, they can make a big splash in a short amount of time when they connect with your audience.
Events make for a great opportunity for hashtag marketing. They have a built-in audience of attendees, those that wish they could attend, and the rest of us that are on the outside looking in, wondering what all of the fuss is about.
For example, posting updates about popular industry conferences can be a great way to not only schedule some interesting coffee meetups during the conference, but it can help your brand to gain more visibility throughout.
Here’s a good example of using a conference hashtag to bolster brand content:
Once Pubcon had wrapped up, the company published a detailed wrap-up of the event. Then, they promoted this content on Twitter and other social networks using hashtags that were associated with the event.
Do you know what a Twitter chat is? A Twitter chat is essentially a public discussion that organizes itself by hashtag. Let’s say a teacher’s union wanted to take a day to discussion teaching salaries in the US. They might choose to do this under a hashtag like #TeachingPayChat or something similar. Not only does this approach help chat participants to find discussions to take part in, but it increases the visibility of the cause to users outside of their group that normally wouldn’t participate.
Here’s a an example of a few Tweets from a Twitter chat called #BlogChat:
In other words, a Twitter chat is simply a way for people (and brands) to have somewhat organized discussions around a popular topic. If you are able to find a Twitter chat that closely aligns with your brand or product, it can be a powerful opportunity to get your product in front of an ideal audience.
If you want to find Twitter chats (scheduled ones, anyway), I recommend keeping a close eye on the TweetReports Twitter Chat Schedule page.
Content Description Hashtags
Simple, but often effective. Simply tagging your updates with useful hashtags that describe your content can be an effective way to increase their visibility. For instance, if I were to promote this post on social media, I might use a content descriptor hashtag like #SocialMediaMarketing or #HashtagMarketing. This will help searchers who are interested in content around those subjects to find my post.
There are many companies that keep a close watch on hashtags that are related to their industry. They use it to find brand partners, customers, and answer questions for authority building. Appearing in content description hashtags can be a solid way to network and find like-minded companies to partner with.
Product or Service Hashtags
If you have a company that offers multiple products or services, hashtags can draw attention to the different sides of your brand. This is incredibly helpful when your products have different audiences.
These hashtags can help consumers to perform research on a product. Sifting through your catalogue can be difficult if you have a large range of products and services. A product or service hashtag makes it simple for consumers to find information about that product.
Take a look at this example from GoPro, while promoting their GoProPlus:
If you hadn’t guessed already — the elephant ends up kicking the camera and damaging it. This is a fun and lighthearted way to promote new selling points for their Go Pro Plus line. The post did very well, receiving more than a whopping 100,000 likes and 600+ comments.
Hashtag Marketing ToolsNow that we’ve covered popular hashtag marketing strategies, we have to recommend a few tools that will make your life a whole lot easier. These tools will help you generate, track, and research hashtags for your social media marketing campaigns:
- Influencer Marketing’s Instagram Hashtag Generator. Simple. You upload a photo, then build a selection of relevant hashtags that you can use when you share the image.
- All Hashtag. Great all-in-one tool. Started out as a simple hashtag generator. Today they offer a generator, creator, and detailed hashtag analytics.
- Ritetag. >An excellent and super-simple hashtag generator from RiteKit. Ritetag provides instant suggestions for images or text.
- Hashtagify. A complete system that helps you to find, analyze, and grow your hashtag marketing strategy. Provides real-time data and insights about any hashtag on Twitter or Instagram.
- ExportTweet. If you don’t mind paying for great data, ExportTweet allows you to track hashtags, keywords, and accounts. It provides in-depth hashtag reports that help you to make data-based decisions in your hashtag marketing.
Those are just a few of the many hashtag-centric tools that are available today.
Use Hashtag Marketing to Grow Your Social Reach
Smart hashtag usage isn’t about spamming as many hashtags as you can into each update. It’s about finding smart, strategic ways to get your social media updates in front of your ideal audience. The strategies in this article should help you to get the gears turning on how you can implement effective hashtag strategies into your own social media presence.
What do you think? If you’ve used hashtags in a unique way or have questions about hashtag marketing, we’d love to hear from you in the comments!