Hashtag usage can be a very effective marketing strategy. It’s great for building brand awareness, helping customers find your products and services, and staying relevant in today’s marketplace. But as with any strategy, hashtags come with perks and pitfalls. Don’t worry—we’ve got you covered with all you need to know about #hashtag etiquette and effective techniques, so you can get the most out of your campaigns using them.

Choose popular and existing hashtags wisely.

Trending topics are a goldmine for increasing brand exposure and keeping a thumb on the pulse of the world. If a trending hashtag relates to your business, using them puts your brand front and center in a conversation people are already having. As a gateway to a much larger audience, you up your chances of going viral.

However, choose trending hashtags wisely: their popularity also means they are a haven for spammers.

Take care with the quality of your posts. Not only do you not want to be branded a spammer, you don’t want to attract spammer followers to you. They can muck up future messages by diverting what you want to say.

Don’t ignore niche trends, either. While the numbers of overall users may be smaller, if they’re more in line with your products and services, they can still provide a juicy vein of leads for future conversions.

Specific hashtags are your friends.

While broad topics like #reading or #makeup or #shopping could be related to your company, there’s a lot of chaff for legitimate consumers to wade through. Strike a balance. The more specific you are, the harder people have to search to find you, but the more general your hashtag, the more crowded the conversation. Be distinguishing without being difficult to find. A good place to consider for hashtags that work for your company is in your SEO keyword lists.

Research, research, research.

For any new hashtag you either create or run across to join, look into it first.

Unknowingly stumbling on a controversial hashtag can send your followers a message you aren’t trying to convey, and the damage can be long lasting and unpredictable. It’s totally okay to take a stance on controversial hashtags, but do so mindfully so you contribute to the convo how you intend.

If the hashtag is your creation, keep on top of its identity. If someone hijacks your hashtag by diverting it from its intended purpose, sometimes the best thing you can do is retire it and pivot in a new direction.

LESSON LEARNED: #McDStories backfired spectacularly several years ago when users went on to describe horrible experiences with McDonald’s, and the company lost control of the conversation.

Be Goldilocks.

Too many hashtags, and you lose people who aren’t willing to read a whole paragraph to get to your message.

On Twitter, engagement falls with more than two hashtags, and on Instagram, hashtag fatigue sets in around ten, so know your platform.

Too few hashtags or they’re not specific enough, people won’t find you to see what you’re saying. If you consider your platform carefully, you can hone your message to its most optimal level of “just right.”

LESSON LEARNED: For a nationwide company, instead of using an overall brand hashtag, perhaps drilling down to a store location can help, like Serena and Lily for their Los Angeles location.

Relevancy matters.

Taking on trending topics can be a great move, or it can be a disastrous one. Not reading the purpose of the hashtag before joining the conversation to add your marketing spin can make you look opportunistic and spammy. If instead of taking on trending topics you create your own, double check it for strange combinations of words you didn’t intend to make, or worse, double meanings.

LESSON LEARNED: Burger King launched a lower fat french fry with the hashtag campaign #wtff to mean “what the french fry?” Instead, they found their hashtag hijacked by another, more adult meaning: “what the flying f*@$” (some people even subbed another f-bomb for flying).

Ask yourself, does your hashtag say what you want it to say? Does it convey the message you’re trying to send? If you’re joining a trending hashtag, is the situation relevant?

LESSON LEARNED: Clothing maker The Gap learned the hard way that using the hashtag #Sandy during the superstorm that hit the East Coast in 2012 was not the time to promote shopping.

Use hashtags for campaigns and events.

Hashtags can be remarkable things the help you promote limited time offers or events for your company.

Because tracking hashtags is specific, you can see in real time the level of engagement on your campaigns to determine if one is more successful than the last.

With events, especially recurring ones, you can look back through previous event hashtags for content as memories, reminding your consumers why they had such fun before, and they should join you again. Event hashtags are also a ready-made opportunity for live-tweeting your event to drum up last minute interest.

Don’t forget the data.

As with any marketing strategy you take up, tracking hashtags can tell you not only if they’re successful right up front, but you can get information over time and learn how the conversation is evolving, keeping your engagement on point.

There are programs to help you, like Sprout, which has Instagram analytics as well as multi-platform tools so all your data is in one place. There are others as well, like Keyhole and TalkWalker. Not only can you see how your existing hashtags are doing, but you can find inspiration for new hashtags by seeing how many of them relate to each other. Or, perhaps TrendsMap is helpful so you can see hashtag popularity by location. Want to boost engagement out-of-state or even internationally? See what the locals are saying to find your in.

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