On the social media training courses I run, it seems Twitter newbies find that hashtags are the hardest aspect to get their heads around. So here are some ideas about how to use hashtags in your Twitter marketing.

Introducing hashtags (via books & blogs)
Imagine an index in a book. It’s a list of the main topics that appear in the book, together with the relevant page numbers that help readers find all the information on those topics.

‘Tags’ on a blog operate in a similar way. You tag (or label) each post with the relevant keywords so they automatically become links that readers can click to find your other blogs with the same tag.

To tag a tweet on the micro-blogging site, Twitter, you simply add the hash # symbol before your keyword or keyphrase (no spaces) – that’s why it’s called a hashtag. That little symbol makes your keyword or keyphrase into a clickable link to all other tweets (not just your own) that contain the same hashtag.

Hashtags can appear anywhere within a tweet (beginning, middle or end). Don’t use more than one hashtag, or at most, two, in any tweet. That’s because 140 characters made up of nothing more than links makes your tweet hard to read, and is therefore unlikely to
communicate your message effectively.

I’m fascinated to observe that hashtags have escaped from Twitter into Facebook, but beware, Facebook users object – another reason not to automate every tweet so it appears on Facebook too. Even more incredibly, the word ‘hashtag’ has entered into spoken language, sometimes with the first two fingers of each hand crossed to make the ‘hash’ symbol.

How to use hashtags

I’ve observed the Twitterati using hashtags in a range of ways. Which of these would be useful for you?

1. Events e.g. #PSAUK
At events in the old days, facilitators would ask you to turn off your mobile phone to avoid interruptions. These days, they ask you to turn it to silent and to tweet throughout the event. They give you a special hashtag, perhaps to display questions on a big screen behind the stage, and/or to produce a post-event PDF commentary by the audience.

This happens at the Professional Speaking Association conventions. Last year, I had to be extra careful about my hashtagged tweets once the gala dinner Champagne was served!

Top tip: Hashtags are not exclusive and expire quite quickly (Twitter search only goes back about 10 days), so try to pick a combination of letters and numbers that no-one else is using.

2. Recommendations e.g. #FollowFriday, #FF
It has become a Twitter tradition to recommend your fellow Twitter users on a Friday, with the hashtag #FollowFriday. It’s been abbreviated to #FF, and people have forgotten what it means, so they are #FFing each other every day.

The proper way to structure your tweet is “#FF @username because [add reason here]”. Don’t just tweet “#FF @username1 @username2 @username3”, because that doesn’t give your followers any reason to follow the people you’re recommending.

It’s good netiquette to thank someone who #FFs you. I usually do that via Direct Message so my ‘thank you’s don’t clog up my public Twitter stream.

In the early days of Twitter, some people recommended their favourite tunes with the hashtag #MusicMonday (but that seems to have died a death). These days, some users also brag about their latest project with the hashtag #FlauntItFriday.

3. Complaints e.g. #Fail, #EpicFail
Warning: If you search Twitter for one of those hashtags, you may well find tweets that include swearing.

Twitter is commonly used to provide customer service in public, and people are using it to ‘shout out’ to brands they feel have let them down.

You really don’t want your company name to appear labelled with #Fail, or worse, #EpicFail. It happened to Heathrow during the snow when they took days longer to clear their runways than Gatwick did, and their reputation is still tarnished.

Ironically, if you tweet the @btcare account you should get a better response than if you phone BT, because it’s more open to scrutiny.

4. Comments e.g. #JustKidding
This is another colloquial hashtag, used to indicate that your tweet is supposed to be a joke. And it’s another expression that’s now used in conversation as well as within the confines of Twitter itself.

5. Character e.g. #HappyGiraffe
Hashtags can be used to add character to your tweets. For example, Jason @GiraffeBanners often ends his tweets with #HappyGiraffe, #BusyGiraffe, #SadGiraffe etc. He’s not seriously expecting anyone to click through to other tweets with the same hashtag; it’s just a way to express personality and show emotion.

To demonstrate my sense of humour and attract followers, some of my recent tweets have included the hashtags #NotManFlu, #ClaimToFame and #Oops.

6. Q&A e.g. #PRClinic
Alan @MediaCoach uses the #PRClinic hashtag to run a Twitter Q&A session when he’s stuck in a Starbucks between meetings. He’ll tweet in advance e.g. “Tweet me your PR questions between 2pm and 3pm today, and I’ll answer them live on Twitter – free”. It’s a good way to use downtime benefit your followers, demonstrate your expertise and grow your reputation.

7. Programmes e.g. #TheApprentice, #HIGNFY, #Radio2
Just about every TV and radio show has its own hashtag, to collate people’s comments during and after the show. For example, I followed the hashtag #Broadchuch for the recent murder mystery series – it was like watching each programme with a bunch of virtual friends on the sofa with you.

In past series, business author and speaker, Mike Clayton, wrote a blog about the previous night’s The Apprentice episode, drawing out lessons that business-owners can learn. It built quite a following and raised his personal brand. Can you ride on the back of a popular broadcast too?

8. Headlines e.g. #CopyTip, #OldCopy, #ContentMarketing
Headlines account for up to 90% of the success of any marketing communication, so you can use the hash symbol to ‘headline’ your tweets. For example, I use them to add a common label to a series of tweets and remind people what I do for a living.

Top tip: Despite the symbol’s ubiquity, if you use a Mac there is no hash symbol on the keyboard; you have to type Alt+3.

Have you observed any other uses of the hashtag? Please let me know. Also, do get in touch if you’d like training to enhance your social media content and strategy. Tweet me @jackiebarrie.

I originally wrote this article for Fresh Business Thinking

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