Hashtags 101

Hashtags are no longer just for Twitter. With Facebook’s recent announcement that the use of hashtags is now enabled on the site too, small businesses and nonprofits need to make sure that they have a good grasp on how and when to use them effectively. And while some are still trying to wrap their arms around the benefits of using hashtags, many businesses are already finding success.

A recent study found that 71 percent of people on social media use hashtags, with 43 percent of hashtags users reporting that they think they’re useful and 34 percent using them to follow categories and brands of personal interest like your business.

For those that are not already using hashtags, here is a quick overview of how and when the can and should be used.  

What is a hashtag?
A hashtag consists of words or phrases (with no spaces), preceded by a # sign (i.e. #SBW13 or #StanleyCup) that is used to tie various social media posts together and relate them to a topic. Topics are sometimes connected to an event, TV show, sporting event, or any happening or trend of your choosing. Originally, hashtags were created on Twitter, but today they can be used on Pinterest, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Vine.

Why do hashtags matter?
 By clicking on a hashtag in a social post, that social network will automatically curate and display a feed of other messages also incorporating the same hashtag. Hashtags let you add context to a post and show that it’s a part of a larger discussion. They can be good for connecting people to other individuals discussing the same topic and are also great for connecting people at events.

How do you use a hashtag?
To create a hashtag, simply include a # in front of a word or phrase, without spaces. A hashtag can occur at the beginning or the middle of a post. As a business, you can use a hashtag to make an event even more social, join other conversations, boost the visibility of a promotion or explore new content for content ideas—all of which benefit  your business.

Other tips:
·         Don’t abuse the hashtag. Too many hashtags looks spammy, and research has shown that engagement drops when a tweet has two or more hashtags.
·         Keep your hashtag short and sweet, easy to spell, and easy to remember. If you want to incorporate your hashtag across multiple channels, you need to consider the character restrictions of those social networks. If you’re creating a hashtag for an event with a long title consider using an abbreviation or acronym (For example, for National Small Business Week events earlier this summer, Constant Contact used the hashtag  #SBW13.)
·         Do a search for the hashtag you intend to use before you use it. You never know what people may be using hashtags to discuss. You wouldn’t want to accidentally connect your business to a negative, controversial or embarrassing topic.

Gina Watkins is a leading expert on e-marketing for small business – and has a real passion for helping businesses to succeed. Her ongoing series of dynamic lectures are filled with real-world examples, humor and results-driven wisdom garnered from more than two decades of sales, business development and marketing experience. In addition to owning her own business, she is an award-winning direct marketer, has been featured on WUSA Channel 9’s Mind Over Money show, Dr. Gayle Carson’s Women In Business radio show, Morgan State’s Briefcase Radio program, and in numerous other media. In her role as Constant Contact Regional Development Director, she’s presented to more than ten thousand seminar attendees about the keys to success with easy, affordable, highly effective technology tools that grow trusted business relationships.