I always used to ask myself what the funny little # sign on our house phone was actually for. Then, whilst spending 6 months in Brighton in 2006, the voice on an electronic hotline instructed me to press the “hash” key. Confused, I stared at the keyboard and, after much deliberation, pressed #. It worked, and I’d learnt a new English word – the little double cross symbol is called a hash.
The Emergence of the #Hashtag on Twitter
A hashtag is used to categorize information on social media channels, and was first suggested in August 2007 on Twitter by Chris Messina.
During the San Diego fire of the same year, the hashtag #sandiegofire was first used to gather together information about the crisis from all users. In 2009, Twitter introduced clickable hashtag hyperlinks. This was followed in 2010 by trending topics enabling users to see what hashtags and other phrases were being used most for particular topics on a given day. Commonly used hashtags on Saturday nights in the UK for example are #matchoftheday or #xfactor.
Hashtags in social networks
Without the hashtag, we would quickly lose track of what’s going on in any current social network, as information would simply get lost in the masses of content. Think about it: each day, 500 million tweets are sent worldwide! But hashtags on Twitter and other networks constantly show themselves to be useful channels of communication – especially at large events. Take the upcoming Dmexco conference in Cologne for example. Without the event hashtag #dmexco to gather everything together, meaningful exchange of information would be impossible given the sheer number of tweets which will be buzzing around the network. The hashtag will allow me to see tweets from other visitors to the conference without necessarily having to follow them.
Why use Hashtags? 4 Reasons with practical examples
8 years after the first hashtag, many people still don’t know where to start with them. I am still regularly asked, “how should I use hashtags, and why? What do they do?”
So I dug up a few interesting examples to clear things up:
#1 A pool of creative, new ideas
Good ideas don’t always present themselves whenever you need them. Especially when you’ve been in a particular business for years, it’s easy to think that you’ve already thought of all the best ideas. But a neutral point of view can be a great help, and this is where hashtags come in.
Search for your own company or product in social media and you’ll quickly see posts by customers who use and tweet about your product. Have a look around for inspiration!
Example: A user posted a picture of a Red Bull can cleverly positioned on a car to resemble the famous promo vehicles driven around by the company. This gave the company the idea for the #putacanonit campaign, encouraging others to upload photos and thus engage with their brand.
You’ll be surprised by what users upload! It’s not just a nice insight into what exactly people do with your product, but it’s also an ideal hunting ground for new marketing ideas.
#2 Tap into the Zeitgeist
Twitter doesn’t stand still. Last year, BILD newspaper’s Kai Diekmann tweeted that he would sell shave off and sell his beard for €100,000 for charity, using the hashtag #EinBartFürKinder – a beard for children. Razor and shaving accessories manufacturer Gillette quickly jumped on in with a contribution of €50,000 and benefited from a flood of good PR.
So keep an eye on trending hastags and maintain a flexible internal structure in order to capitalise on spontaneous opportunities.
#3 Attract new followers and build up you audience
I like what you like! Social networks are based on shared interest in or passion for something. Whether it’s fashion, cooking, sport, animals or travel, everyone has an interest which they can pursue online.
The cake is barely out of the oven before it gets posted on Instagram and it’s recipe pinned on Pinterest, accompanied by a multitude of hashtags. Businesses in the backing industry can then “follow” such users. Social media isn’t a one way street. You can’t just post content and simply wait around for the “likes” to build up. That gets you nowhere.
The key is communication, and this can only take place when I know who my fans are what sort of things they are posting. If I follow a fan or a user, it’s likely that they’ll start following me too. Hashtags therefore help to build up your following.
#4 Your own hashtag
There are two ways in which a company can use a hashtag of their own:
1. Who has already searched for your company name in social media, and in what context was it used?
2. Create a hashtag for a competition. This is great for marketing and branding during the competition and also to look back at an overview afterwards, as Audi showed when a fan tweeted the company using the hashtag #WantAnR8. The car manufacturer quickly launched a competition, asking fans to tweet why they would like to drive an R8 accompanied by the hashtag.
How do I decide which hashtags to use? 2 methods
A common problem for anyone who has just created an account – which hashtags to use? The answer: trial and error. Get to know both your own content and that of others, and work out which hashtags are most commonly used.
Start off by organizing and sorting your ideas and thoughts, perhaps using an app such as MindNote. Remember to keep the customer in mind at all times. Now you can begin sifting through. Start with the obvious – the product. Don’t go into too much depth initially. It’s very easy to lose track of what you really want to convey in the mass of hashtags.
Build up your mindmap bit by bit, and start rating the various terms and phrases. Try using Instagram to show which hashtags are current, and how many posts include them.
#2 Be inspired by your competitors
simplymeasured.com offers free Twitter and Instagram analytics tools with which you can analyse followers, engagement and other metrics. But rather than entering your own account, try adding those of your competitors to analyse their social media performance! By downloading the Instagram report for example, you can see your competitor’s most successful hashtags, sorted by engagement per photo – very useful to find out which hashtags are most potent.
Don’t forget to compare and contrast data with your own account too.
Using hashtags on your own social media channels
The hashtag’s ancestral home! 1-3 hashtags per tweet are enough.
Up to 30 hashtags can be added to each post – but don’t overdo it. You don’t want your post to look like a list of meaningless hashtags. Tip: leave a “comment” beneath your photo and add you hashtags here instead.
Hashtags are clickable and bring users to a topic page, for e.g. https://www.pinterest.com/explore/kochen. The topic can then be followed as a list of different Pins all related to the same topic. If a specific topic doesn’t yet, a click on the hashtag takes users to a normal overview page.
Hashtags can be used for searches and can be clicked on to deliver different search results.
Hashtag tracking and analysis
A free online tool that you don’t even have to register for! Shows all Instagram images, Facebook posts and tweets for a particular hashtag. A great tool to get a visual overview of a hashtag across several social media channels.
Sometimes you find yourself searching for hashtags which are very similar to one another or have been spelt in different ways. This tool quickly gives you the top 10 related hashtags, making it great to expand your hashtag mindmap.
Hashtags are a key aspect of successful social media marketing, enabling you to analyse the general social situation and develop creative ideas of your own.