With a burgeoning population of over 1½ billion users between them, Facebook and Twitter are still the undisputed leaders in social media. But the two environments are about as ‘similar and different’ as PC and Mac: we use them to achieve similar things, but they look, feel and work quite differently. In fact, since the rivalry between Twitter and Facebook began, it always seemed that the developers of these two cyber-landscapes have been intent upon making their networks as distinct as possible from each other. This distinction has created loyalty in both camps. To the die-hard Facebook fan, Twitter often looks like a confusing jumble of cryptic code. To the loyal Tweep, Facebook can feel like it requires just a little too much ‘care and feeding’. And, of course, there are also those seasoned social media marketers who love both. They know the language of both worlds and understand how to leverage them differently for their business.
Because of the long-standing difference between these two worlds, it came as a surprise to many when, in June 2013, Facebook introduced a new ‘lingo’ that had formerly been uniquely Twitterese–hashtags.
Hashtags are a tremendously important and vibrant part of the Twitterverse. I thought they were so important that I devoted an entire chapter to them in my book Tweep-e-licious. But in spite of their popularity, many people on Twitter don’t use them properly, and end up either getting their content filtered from search results, or just plain annoying their Twitter followers.
But when hashtags were introduced on FACEBOOK, we suddenly had a population of millions people who had no clue about what they were or how to communicate with them. I saw (and contributed to) many comments threads popping up on Facebook the week it happened. Some who were familiar with them from Twitter (like me) were excited by their appearance. Others who dabbled in Twitter but preferred Facebook responded to it with as much enthusiasm as the Brits welcomed the Viking invaders. But most of the comments I read expressed confusion. What ARE hashtags? What do they mean? How do you use them? Why should I bother?
A hashtag is a word or term that is preceded by a ‘hash sign’, i.e. #. There can be no spaces between the hashtag and the word/term, and there can be no spaces in between words if you are using a term. For example, I often use the tag #7Graces when I talk about the book The 7 Graces of Marketing or the 7 Graces Project. Hashtags are NOT case sensitive, meaning a tag of #7graces would be the same as #7Graces. However, using upper and lower case can make them easier for your followers to read and identify.
When you put together a tag like this, it automatically creates a hyperlink that people can click. When they click on the hyperlink, they will find all the most recent Tweets or Facebook posts that have used that hashtag. Basically, putting a # sign in front of anything will turn it into a clickable link.
So you can see that creating a hashtag is simple. But knowing how to use them effectively requires some know-how. So today, I’d like to share 5 essential and effective ways to use hashtags on both Facebook and Twitter. Numbers 1 and 2 are for anyone, business owner or not. Strategies 3 – 5 are particularly for those who use these networks to promote their business.
Essential Hashtag Use 1: Follow currently trending topics
Perhaps the most common use of hashtags is to follow information about a story that’s happening in the moment. For instance, this past week here in Britain, the big trending topic has been the tennis tournament at #Wimbledon. Trending topics tend to be about entertainment or breaking news. Sometimes they are about a natural disaster, such as (hurricane) #Sandy last year. When you see a hashtag on a topic in which you are interested, you can click it and you’ll see a list of related comments and stories. This can often provide you with a great source of information on specific topics in which you are personally or professionally interested.
Essential Hashtag Use 2: Find friends who talk about a particular topic
Hashtags can not only help you find topics of interest, but people of interest too. While some hashtags are on ‘trending’ topics, others are on long-term topics of interest. One example is the hashtag #SocialEnterprise or its shorter version #SocEnt (commonly used on Twitter). It stands to reason that people using this hashtag are probably interested in the subject of social enterprise. So if you’re interested in social enterprise and you’re looking for new, relevant connections, click the hashtag and you’ll find loads of them. Then, find the people who look the most interesting and reach out and connect with them.
Essential Hashtag Use 3: Create a brand identity
Not all hashtags are about ‘things’ or events. You can make them up too. If you’re a business owner or an author, you could (and should) create a hashtag that identifies your brand. I’ve already mentioned my #7Graces hashtag. Another hashtag I use is #Tweepelicious. Notice with #Tweepelicious I don’t include the hyphens as they appear in the actual title of the book, i.e. I don’t use #Tweep-e-licious as a hashtag. This is because the hyphens would break the hashtag, resulting in a hashtag that says #Tweep rather than the whole title.
While I wouldn’t put my brand hashtag on every Tweet or Facebook post I send out, I do use them when I specifically refer to either of these books (or to the #7Graces Project). While the obvious advantage of creating a brand hashtag is that it reinforces brand identity, the other (and more powerful) advantage is that if people click the hashtag they will find all the Tweets and updates you or your customers and fans have posted about your business. This means they will automatically find out more about you without ever having been to your website. And, of course, if your updates include links to your blog or website, they might check them out if their curiosity is aroused by what they read in the hashtag stream.
Essential Hashtag Use 4: Set up hashtag stream on your website
As of this writing, this particular hashtag use is specific to Twitter only. Once you’ve set up a brand hashtag, there are ways you can use it to your advantage outside the immediate environment of Twitter and Facebook, by bringing the hashtag to your website or blog. We do this by using a feature called a ‘Twitter widget’.
To create a Twitter widget for your hashtag, log into your Twitter account, and then click ‘Settings’ from the options in the upper right-hand corner. Then, on the left you will see an option for ‘widgets’. Say ‘create new widget’ and a new window will open up where you can customise the settings for your widget. Most people use this feature to stream all their latest Tweets on their website, which is good, but you might also think of creating a widget for your brand hashtag. For instance, I made a widget for the hashtag #Tweepelicious. I use this widget on my website as well as the sales page for the book. That way, all the tips from the book that I share on Twitter are visible in a single stream on my website.
This strategy can arouse curiosity in your web visitors to find out more about the subject (in this case, my book) by clicking one of the links in the Tweets. It also makes the subject feel vibrant, as they see all the activity around it, especially if you are engaging affiliates or collaborative partners to promote your brand/product. And that leads nicely to our next essential hashtag use.
Essential Hashtag Use 5: Track a marketing campaign
By far the most helpful use of hashtags for marketers is tracking and analysis. Whenever I am organising a marketing campaign for a client, I set up a unique hashtag for that event. In order to be effective and accurate, this hashtag has to be created carefully, so it is unlikely to be used for other purposes by someone not connected to your campaign.
For example, when my client Morgana Rae was getting ready to launch her book Financial Alchemy in January 2013, I made the hashtag #AlchemyJan23. The words #Alchemy or #Financial on their own were way too common and would not provide me with any useful tracking. The hashtag #FinancialAlchemy would probably have been unique (although not necessarily), but it would have been very long and might have been hard for readers to process if someone forgot to capitalise the letters and wrote #financialalchemy. By putting #AlchemyJan23, I was including part of the title/keyword as well as the launch date (January 23rd). Not only did this make the hashtag useful, but it gave the audience some useful information. It’s not the shortest hashtag in the world, but it worked well.
Just another thought on tracking hashtags: Sometimes you can get a bit TOO cryptic in trying to create unique tracking hashtags. I’ve seen some marketers use hashtags that look like code, understandable only to them. I believe this is a missed opportunity to reinforce brand while creating a usable tracking tool. Spend a little time to make your tracking hashtag a good balance between length, keywords, brand and uniqueness. Always be sure to TEST it first, to see if other people are using it for a different purpose.
Now, tracking your campaign is easy, but the methods for Twitter and Facebook are not the same.
For Twitter, you can easily track your campaign through your hashtag by setting up a column (stream) for it in a programme like HootSuite or TweetDeck. This enables you to see which of your partners are Tweeting the most, and which Tweets are getting the most response (ReTweets, comments, favouriting).
For Facebook, the best way to track your campaign is to type the hashtag (don’t forget the # sign!) into the search bar at the top of your Facebook page. That way, you can see all the most recent posts by you and your partners that have used your hashtag, and see how many likes, comments, shares, etc. they are receiving. You can comment on posts by your fans and partners, and engage in threads you might not have discovered had they not used your campaign hashtag.
Some Words of Advice
Hashtags are great, but there are a few things you should bear in mind before going overboard with them:
- Overuse of hashtags can be really irritating to your friends and followers. I see some people put them at the #beginning #of #every #word. That’s just plain pointless.
- Overuse of hashtags is not only pointless, but they can have the REVERSE effect of what you’re trying to achieve as they may get your Tweets filtered from search results on Twitter. I’m not sure about Facebook.
- Some people try to get ‘noticed’ by pinching other people’s hashtags, or by stuffing popular but irrelevant hashtags in their Tweets. On Twitter, this is likely to get your account suspended. Again, I don’t know about Facebook as it’s early days, but I hope they have a similar policy.
Call me a geek, but I love hashtags. And far from seeing them as ‘Twitter Invaders’, I welcome the introduction of hashtags on Facebook. I think this is an excellent example of how new systems cross-feed each other and make a better product.
AND…as ethical marketers, please use them correctly, respectfully and sensibly. Let hashtags work for you, not against you. Avoid the ‘Deadly Sin’ of Invasion, and engage the Grace of Invitation. Don’t use them to invade your readers’ stream, but rather to invite people to come into yours.
I hope you found this article to be useful. Please let me know by leaving a comment below AND by sharing this article with your Twitter or Facebook followers using the hashtag #7Graces.
9th July 2013
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The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell, by Lynn Serafinn, where you can learn how the 7 Deadly Sins and the 7 Graces impact the world through media and marketing.
Brit Writers Awards Finalist
eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian & Ecological Social Issues
Tweep-e-licious: 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market Their Business Ethically, by Lynn Serafinn, which can help you learn how to create meaningful collaborations through Twitter and other social media.
eLit Book Awards Bronze Medal in Business and Sales
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LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.
Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.
(not just for Londoners, as we meet also on Skype)