How To Use The Hashtag In Business

By on April 25, 2013

The hashtag, once a uniquely Twitter-based element, has become the most efficient means of categorizing content online. As such, sites like Pinterest and Google+ have joined Twitter as hashtag users, and news is spreading about Facebook adopting it too. In light of this new information, what does your business need to know about online hashtag use?

The Beginning of The Humble Hashtag

No-one knows who invented the hashtag, but we know that it was around BEFORE Twitter brought it into the public eye. They were first used on IRC networks to label topics and groups. Chris Messina, an open source advocate first introduced the idea to Twitter users, by mentioning that they should use the pound symbol (#) for groups.

The hashtag quickly shot to fame after its inclusion in the high profile #sandiegofire news event, when wildfire tore through California at the time. In order for fellow tweeters to see Nate Ritter’s posts, they needed to stay on his hashtag channel. The rest was history.

Interesting Points About Hashtagging

Today, hashtagging is one of the most prolific and fun ways of describing content online. Hashtags are a way to describe a mood, to predict an event, and even to chat about a specific location. They are easily the most efficient crowdsourced means of organizing disorganized content on any social network online right now.

This is why the hashtag is not just a Twitter thing anymore. In fact, you’ll see hashtags being used on Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, Tout, Tumblr and perhaps even Facebook in the coming days. Because organizing content helps people find it, hashtagging has just become one of the most important lessons you can learn as a small business owner.

When you know how to accurately hashtag your content, you’ll get more traffic and interactions from it – which usually amounts to more sales. Hashtags are also becoming a form of keyword property like a domain address. The better your hashtag keywords, the more people instinctively use them or search for them on your networks.

Hashtags like #ilovenewyork are very general, but because of the millions of people that use this hashtag every day, it’s an incredible hashtag to use in marketing messages. Similarly, hashtags have temporal value, meaning that they are connected to real-time events, and can cause massive surges in traffic to your sites if you know how to use them. The recent hashtag #bostonmarathonbombs attracted tons of traffic.

Of course this begs the ethical question – is it alright to use tragic news events for marketing purposes? I believe if you do it with sincerity and grace, there’s no reason why a tweet here or there can’t help you with your Twitter marketing goals. Many businesses sent out tweets, offering their condolences to the families of the people that died. There is nothing wrong with that. However, direct marketing is distasteful and should be discouraged.

“Get 20% off product X with these explosive savings at brand X! #bostonbombings”

This kind of tweet is unethical, and will contribute to the devaluation of your brand online. Are you starting to see how important hashtags are becoming to small business marketers?

How To Use Hashtags For Business

This brings us to the question – how do you, as a business owner, learn to use hashtags to improve your business – across all participating social networks?

The easy answer is that you will have to integrate a hashtag strategy into your current marketing campaigns. Hashtags are universal now, and that means you need to start treating them as a dominant form of sourcing traffic from social networks.

According to RadiumOne, 58% of all social media users that participated in their survey, use hashtags on a daily basis. More than 70% of these do it from their mobile phones.

  • 40.7% of people said that they used hashtags to communicate personal ideas or feelings
  • 34.1% of people said that they use it to follow relevant categories and brands that they’re interested in
  • 14.8% of people said that they use hashtags to redirect audiences to external web content like videos, articles and links
  • 10.4% of people said that they use hashtags to promote social or corporate events

You can use hashtags in any of the following ways:

• Use hashtags to curate content
• To find conversations about your brand, book, or persona
• To meet important influencers in your niche
• To join in on conversations about relevant topics
• As research tools when creating content for your blog or marketing materials
• As a news archive tool
• To check out what the competition is doing
• To see how the competition is chatting with their audiences
• To organize and run live events like Twitter chats and meetups
• To source social proof from relevant fans and experts
• To find great guest bloggers for your blog
• To find more people to add to your network (fan base growth)

The Coming Facebook Hashtag

There still seems to be some confusion about hashtags online, with many memes coming out and going viral on sites like Facebook. There will always be resistance to change, but those in the ‘know’ understand that this progression is actually good for everyone. It means that soon, you’ll be able to find conversations on Facebook that interest you and join in.

Whether this will further muddy their lack of ‘privacy’ is another matter. All hashtagging is public of course – it’s an indexing system. Luckily you’ve taken your first step to becoming a small business owner that knows how to properly use hashtags in their daily strategies online. For the early adopters, only growth and success will follow.

I recently noticed a survey on Facebook where they were asking fans to provide feedback on their search functionality. Will hashtags be the new search system Facebook adopts? What do you think?

About John Souza

John Souza is founder and chief strategist of SMMU and Social Media Impact, and is a bestselling business author. He won the 2011 Tech Marketing Awards ‘Social Media Marketer of the Year’ and most recently the About.com Reader’s Choice Award for Best Online Education Site. John has appeared on The Michael Gerber Show, and his business has been honored at the Mashable Awards, Forbes Business Awards and The Stevie Awards.
Close

Like what you're reading?

Like us on Twitter, Facebook or Google+ for more!