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Why do you use Hashtags?

No, really…why do you use them? Can someone please tell me?

Social media is a pretty funny thing. Whenever something new comes out and people start jumping on the bandwagon, a good portion of the jumpers have no idea what there are doing; they are just along for the ride. There is a hope that somehow being on the crest of the next big wave will translate into marketing gold and relevancy, but does it?

The answer to that last one is yes, but usually it takes a while because there is no set formula in place that shows you how to maximize yourself and achieve some sort of goal. Just like it took awhile for people to get the hang of using Facebook, it will take a while for other things like that often overused and completely understood hashtag (#IdontknowwhyIamdoingthis).

The Hashtag Concept

The idea behind a hashtag is pretty simple. It is meant to add clarity and direction to an otherwise very crowded social scene. The tag allows grouping of messages and ways for people to search for messages that contain specific words (#isntthathandy).

Obviously hashtags became popular as Twitter became used more to help reduce the noise. Of course that only works if you use them properly. One of the best examples of using hashtags has been by reporters when covering a continuing story. They simply pick a good tag line, such as #Aurorashooting, and end each story with it.

On the flip side, there are far too many people that actively use hashtags just to use them and have no idea what the hell they are doing (#lookatmyhashtags!). In fact, plenty of people that are very knowledgeable about marketing are using hashtags in their ads. Of course they probably are just doing it because everyone else is rather than having a plan for them.

For example here is a tweet from Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers star who recently joined Twitter: “#focus #zen #takethechallenge only focus is N.O #beastmode #mambasrep #lakernationstandup”.

No offense to Kobe but that is one of the dumbest uses of hashtags seen in quite a while and a poor use of Twitter. Athletes and celebrities often seem to think that by hashtaging a term they are somehow adding relevance to a conversation. Certainly people who want to follow Zen and focus will be delighted to read his offering.

Put Thought into It

First things first, you need to create your own hashtag. Now obviously this is incredibly easy as Kobe Bryant has shown us with his #mambasrep gem. For those who don’t follow him, Kobe Bryant’s nickname is the “Black Mamba” so one can infer that his hashtag references to himself “representing”. All jokes aside, that hashtag does meet a few important criteria.

  • Specific – You want your tag to be unique enough that people won’t find you when searching for something completely different. Obviously the millions of people looking for information on snakes will be disappointed when they find Kobe instead.
  • Association – You want something closely associated with your brand or industry. Hundreds of hashtags are registered everyday so people need something simple and easy to remember (#loungelizard) that is naturally associated with the brand. Using a play off his nickname is pure genius!
  • Short – You can only use 140 characters in Twitter so a shorter hashtag allows more to be said in a Tweet and still have space for the tag.

Now put it to Work

First you start adding your hashtag to your products and ads. Think of it as another layer of branding with a specific focus of social media. It’s like your logo on Twitter, Tweetdeck, or Twubs. You need to use it and associate it with your brand and product so people know that it is yours and so other people won’t use it because it is actively in use.

Next you need to make it work for you. This is the whole point of having it in the first place, right?

  • Round Up – Drive people to a relevant conversation like herding cattle on the range. You can use a widget to aggregate your hashtag related tweets for a branded conversation on your website that is much more interesting than just your own Twitter feed.
  • Tweet Chat – These are regularly schedule events that allow people to carry on group conversation. More and more people are using them to create an effective interface so customers or people interested in your topic can follow the hashtag and ask or answer questions from the moderator.

Hashtags are perfectly useful when used the right way. They can help direct traffic and help people find you amid the very cluttered social media world. However if you aren’t using them right way, all you are really doing is adding to the pile.

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