What’s the Deal with Hashtags?

Hashtags see prominent use on many social media platforms- and they perform multiple functions within what seems like a very basic premise. This is how they are generally constructed across platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram: simply place a “#” symbol in front of a string of relevant characters, and there you have it. Done. It’s as easy as that. But, while it may be easy to make one and dispense into the void of the internet with little to no thought, it may be used by marketers as an effective advertising or promotion tool (social listening included, but will not describe in this blog unfortunately).

So, part of how hashtags function is to be “clickable”- clicking on them takes the browser to a page that contains postings containing the initial hashtag. Some hashtags are more popular than others, and the hashtag is often a conduit through which users may search for more information related to the hashtag of their choice.

How are marketers able to use hashtags? Outside of social listening pursuits, they can create their own or latch onto ones already circulating (and likely quite popular), but it depends on what exactly the marketer is trying to achieve.

For instance, if the marketer is tasked with creating a unique or limited-time advertising promotion online they may opt to establish a unique hashtag. Unique is a vague term, but in this case it is very important. There are many pitfalls to avoid when constructing a custom hashtag- especially if there is a significant budget going towards this promotion. Marketers should check that the hashtag they intend to use does not possess any current activity- if there is activity on that hashtag it should be made sure that the activity is not toxic, and maybe should be reconsidered to find something more unique. Equally, a hashtag should not be overtly long or obtuse as they are meant to be used in conjunction with user expressions (driving engagement and allowing for creativity), and some platforms place a limit on length of posts.

In other instances, it may make more sense for a marketer to just use a hashtag that is already popular or trending widely on social media. For example, conventions or sporting-related events generate their own massively trending hashtag, and without a specific contest to drive a marketer’s hashtag decision, it may most beneficial to jump on the latest hashtag bandwagon to stay relevant to the interests of a target market. When a target market searches for that large event, chances are they may be more likely to see the marketer’s post (among others) than they would otherwise.

Due to the wide use of social media, and the markets available to be communicated to through social media, careful consideration of hashtag use should be made to avoid wasted time, money, and efforts.

Michael Patterson (2014) has some more useful information about hashtags and their history: http://sproutsocial.com/insights/how-to-use-hashtags/

And some valuable information about who is using social media can be found here: http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/10/08/social-networking-usage-2005-2015/

Last, but not least, here is a video I produced to summarize the contents of this blog:

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