Nearly every public relations campaign can benefit from smart use of hashtags, those words that start with the symbol # and make social content more searchable by topic. Marketers know that hashtags help spark brand conversations, expand content reach, engage a target audience and improve search and SEO.
Hashtags work best when marketers think of them as boosters and enhancements, not as a replacement for quality content. Brands should also use them judiciously and with words and images that make sense. Avoid tagging every word or phrases that are hard to read or unintentionally awkward like this, our favorite fail from online database of talent reps, Who Represents. You can see how the social media version #whorepresents could be misconstrued. But enough about the misses, here are some ways to make your hashtags a hit.
Define goals. Using your marketing and PR plan as a guide, set social media goals to align. What are you looking to accomplish? Increase website visits? Drive social interaction with customers? Promote an event? This exercise will help the team settle on messaging, images and timing of components for hashtag usage.
Keep it simple. Like most of what works best on social media, an authentic hashtag strategy that is true to a brand is more effective than one trumped up for attention, or that rides the coattails of an existing trending topic. Naturals include the ubiquitous Nike #JustDoIt or Coca-Cola’s #ShareaCoke. They work because they simply reinforce what we already know about a brand. But the best hashtags take that authenticity a step further with a call to action. That’s why we love #PutACanOnIt from Red Bull. Inspired by a fan photo of a Red Bull can atop a Mini Cooper, the hashtag campaign created branded Mini Coopers while encouraging Red Bull drinkers to come up with their own unique takes on the photo. The simple concept caught on and was considered one of the most successful Twitter campaigns to date.
Do some hashtag research. It may seem simple enough to match a hashtag to a company initiative or call to action, but the last thing you want to do is assume your chosen word or phrase is unique and hasn’t already been used. Try using a hashtag research tool, such as TWUBS, What the Trend, or Trendsmap, to see what already exists and if they are trending(or have trended. There’s much to learn here, most importantly, why a particular hashtag is trending. This will avoid the embarrassment that can come with using a hashtag that is overused, aligns your brand with something negative or is just plain wrong. The use of #MLK Day with Martin Luther King’s “We shall overcome” to celebrate the Seattle Seahawks Superbowl bid is a good example of a hashtag gone wrong. The public reacted swiftly and the team did as well, apologizing and removing the tweet.
Choose “sticky” hashtags. Apparently, the most popular hashtag in use is #FF, short for “follow Friday,” with 539 million mentions. But last month’s #NuggsforCarter – one student’s attempt to secure free Wendy’s chicken nuggets for life – may be gaining on #FF. While neither of those hashtags were chosen by brands, Wendy’s is certainly happy with the attention “Nuggs” has brought to its brand. By using it in their own social media, they’ve seen the Twitter retweets swell to over three million. Here’s some basic advice for choosing hashtags with staying power. Try to be unique and precise. The more vague and commonplace your terms, the less distinguishable (and shareable) your hashtag. Get creative and remember everyone adores alliteration (see what we did there), hence the popularity of #MeatlessMonday and #ThrowbackThursday. And make timing work for you, as organizers behind this year’s #womensmarch found when online chatter using the tag and others similar to it began well ahead of the event.
Know your platforms. The hashtag was born on Twitter and it has become the primary source of news for individuals and media alike. Research shows that tweets with hashtags have twice the engagement and one or two hashtags further increases. But stop there, because increasing to three actually decreases interest. Instagram, on the other hand, works in the opposite way – the more hashtags, the better. Facebook experts claim that its posts perform best with no hashtags at all. These are guidelines; it’s best to dig into each site and see what works for you.
Integrate brand hashtags into PR efforts. Ideally, a team can make a hashtag work harder by leveraging it in PR efforts. We’ve seen this done successfully in campaigns that move seamlessly from social media to traditional media. #Movember is a great example of this migration. The Movember Foundation was started to bring attention to men’s health issues, but arguably didn’t take off until the organization mobilized mustache-growing as part of its awareness campaign. The great images of men sporting ‘staches in November lent itself to the brilliant hashtag campaign which is a media favorite every year.
Measure results. We look for ways to measure results of a hashtag strategy much the way we do PR outcomes – using a variety of metrics, including general buzz, engagement, sentiment and potential reach. Although a recent study by Meltwater concluded that 76% of PR firms use no paid media monitoring or analytics tools at all, there are several good ones, including Talkwalker and Hashtagify, which just posted its top list of #Mother’sDay hashtags. Just in time to decide how best to leverage some of them for your brand.