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The overenthusiastic use of hashtags is one of the most annoying aspects of Twitter, particularly when the hashtag in question is overused or just doesn’t make any sense (e.g. #justsayin).
But they are also a vital part of the mechanics of Twitter, so marketers need to be able to come up with a good hashtag if they want their social campaigns to have any impact.
The use of hashtags is something we've previously looked at in posts rounding up 2012's biggest social media fails and looking at Twitter's relationship with TV. You can also find out more in our Twitter for Business Best Practice Guide.
And to help marketers avoid breaking some of the cardinal sins of hashtagging etiquette, RadiumOne’s European MD Rupert Staines has put together a handy list of dos and don’ts.
So here’s what you need to know...
1. Figure out what you want to use a hashtag for
The primary reason for including a hashtag in a tweet is to flag up a particular issue or theme that other people can then associate themselves with by using the same hashtag.
A good example is Adidas’ use of the hashtag #takethestage during the Olympics, which then enabled other users to tweet their views about the Olympics and the athletes featured in Adidas’ marketing campaign.
This automatic indexing makes search, the second use of hashtags, possible, meaning users can find out information linked to their interest on a social rather than search optimised basis.
2. #Don’t #overdo #the #hashtagging
As mentioned, hashtags are designed to index content based around a similar theme to make it easier to search.
Therefore, it’s annoying for other users (and looks very amateurish) when someone incessantly hashtags every word in their tweets as it means they’re spamming several different conversations.
A good parody account that makes fun of this problem is @Chino_Wanker.
So, instead of jumping on three hashtags to make sure your content is seen, just pick the most relevant possible hashtag and use that.
Stick to these basic rules: one is the best, two is acceptable, three is pushing it and more than that and you’re just spamming.
Twitter is based around short form content – or 140 characters, to be precise – so using a long hashtag simply means that other users have less space to actually contribute their own views.
Long hashtags are also tricky to read and easy to misspell, meaning the content won’t be associated with its intended conversation.
Finding short, unique hashtags is becoming more difficult as the platform becomes more popular, but it’s better to come up with something brief and creative than something long and precise.
4. Don’t change the hashtag halfway through a campaign
Once you’ve selected your hashtag, stick to it.
A change of heart halfway through a campaign will result in split conversations or will force people to use two separate hashtags, which again limits their ability to contribute to the conversation.
That said, Adidas’ Olympic campaign made good use of two hashtags - #takethestage during the Games and #stagetaken after the athletes has achieved success.
5. Promote your hashtag
In order to be effective hashtags have to be seen, so stick yours on all your social media websites, on your print marketing materials, at the bottom of your emails, and so on.
However, there does need to be a reason behind the use, so make sure to include a call-to-action asking consumers to “join the discussion” or “voice their views”.
6. Jump on other hashtags
Popularising hashtags is extremely difficult, so to give yourself a better chance of gaining exposure it’s worth searching Twitter to identify words that are already being used in conversation about your particular issue or topic.
However you also need to be careful about elbowing your way into the middle of an existing conversation, as nobody likes a gatecrasher and it’s likely to annoy the people you’re trying to engage with.
[But] there are even opportunities to change the use of a hashtag altogether, a great example being the charity Water Is Life turning #firstworldproblems on its head.
7. Integrate your hashtags into sentences
By integrating your hashtag into a sentence the hashtag is contextualised and the content looks better. It also means you save space and can therefore write more.
8. Remember your hashtags are accessible to everyone
The great thing about Twitter is that the content is free and available to everyone, however that also means that hashtags are open to being hijacked or manipulated.
This is particularly true of individual words that can be easily be used out of context in a sentence.
Staines suggests that best practice would be to come up with an acronym and end it with a number (if relevant) to ensure it isn’t internet trolled.
However I would suggest that brands just need to be aware that there is always the potential that Twitter campaigns will backfire spectacularly, regardless of the hashtag.
An excellent example of this is the wave of abuse that McDonald’s received off the back of its #McDStories campaign.
9. Look beyond the obvious
The use of hashtags is now second nature for most marketers, but it’s important to look beyond the conventional methods and try to find ways of continuing the engagement with consumers.
For example, track who uses the hashtag then use this as a database for consumers who might be receptive to future brand messages or could be targeted as a potential brand advocates.