Not so many years ago,
I paid little attention to that pound sign on my computer keyboard. You
know, the one that looks like this: #.
Then along came Twitter and what we have come to call the
"hashtag," which has changed social media marketing forever.
With their wide use now on many different social media platforms, I began
to think about how to best use them to promote your brand.
I asked Jay York, EMSI's senior digital marketing strategist, to share his
"If you are not using hashtags, you are missing out on exposure,"
Jay says. "When you are on Twitter or Instagram you are trying to
become part of the conversation. The hashtag allows people to find your
contributions to the conversation. Without them, you are missing out on
lots of eyes that could be viewing your content.
"Let's say you have 1,000 people following you on Twitter," Jay
says. "Not counting re-tweets, then only 1,000 people will see your
posts if you don't use a hashtag."
Add a hashtag, though, and you start picking up momentum because the post
has the potential of being seen by, and re-tweeted by, any number of
people. A common hashtag, such as #love, can position your post to be seen
by potentially millions of people.
Jay says while there are great benefits to hashtags, there also are
pitfalls. Hashtags don't come with exclusivity. Anyone can use them, so a
hashtag can become a weapon that works both for you and against you.
Critics of your brand, or just the usual assortment of Internet trolls, may
attempt to hijack your hashtag, putting you or your business in a bad
Jay reminded me of a prime example of a hijacked hashtag from a few years
ago when McDonald's, apparently hoping for a flattering conversation about the
restaurant chain, introduced #McDStories on Twitter.
#McDStories went viral, but not in a good way as the Twitter world had a
field day tweeting unflattering tales of their alleged bad experiences with
I asked Jay to share a few suggestions about getting the most out of
proprietary hashtags. One of the advantages to a
proprietary hashtag, such as "Orange is the New Black's"
hashtag #OITNB, is that it is linked directly to your brand. These are
not used as much as a more generic hashtag, but the goal is to brand
yourself through the hashtag with the hope it could go viral.
- Don't overdo
A post littered with too many hashtags can be difficult to read, so
your message might become obscured as your followers see what appears
to be gibberish. Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon once performed a
humorous skit in which they spoofed the device's overuse by lacing
their spoken conversation with seemingly endless
hashtags. Twitter itself suggests using no more than two hashtags
per Tweet, and Jay says three should be the very maximum. Instagram
has a different etiquette, though, and most Instagram followers will
tolerate excess hashtags. But hashtags aren't that effective on
Facebook simply because that's not the way people use that social
geographically. If you are a local company that
depends mainly on local clientele, a hashtag that links to your
location works well. Hashtags such as #Seattle or #Bangor drop you
into numerous conversations about your hometown.
Since social media has become such a vital element of any
comprehensive marketing strategy, understanding all of the nuances is
A hashtag may not look like much, but it's really a powerful tool that is a
double-edged sword. If used correctly it can greatly bolster your marketing
reach. Used incorrectly, it can have adverse effects or unintended
With social media, your hashtag is your brand, so use it wisely!