The Noodle

#HashtagThis

Does the keyword symbol matter to your brand?

Countless celebrities and major corporations do it. President Obama and the Dalai Lama do it. Even Facebook is among the top 50 most popular tweeters. With more than 500 million (and growing) tweets posted daily, Twitter is a big deal. Hashtags – that number sign preceding a word or words – are the key to effectively navigating and utilizing the dynamic information network of the vast Twittersphere.

Learning to access relevant content and furthering the discussion is an effective way to target audiences, serve them better and compete with rivals, advises Tory Johnson, Good Morning America’s small business expert and CEO/founder of Spark & Hustle, coaching programs that help women start and grow small businesses. “I’ve connected via hashtags with thousands of people to promote my business.”

Does it seem like those little tic-tac-toes are popping up everywhere these days? In fact, hashtags aren’t just for Twitter anymore. Every major social network is allowing the use of hashtags, so understanding how to use them is important if you’re a business or brand with any presence on social media.

Sue Zimmerman, a social media consultant who Johnson asserts is the queen of hashtags and her go-to girl, advises her clients to watch what other brands are doing with hashtags and then create a strategy of their own.

“Pick the top 20 hashtags that are relevant to your business – and it’s OK to make up a few that are specific to your brand,” Zimmerman says. “Keep an eye on your hashtags so that you can monitor any customer service issues, respond to questions or simply keep up with what’s going on in your industry. Use hashtags to find clients or strategic partners that can help your business grow. After all, I landed an awesome $25,000-client just by my hashtag strategy.”

Following is some advice for Twitter newbies who want to use hashtags effectively. Just remember: Don’t chase CASH, be BRASH or RASH; don’t tweet TRASH and tweet with PANACHE.

1. Don’t Chase CASH

While hashtag best practices can help you build your bottom line, you must first seek to build relationships by offering authentic, helpful and meaningful content.

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Mark Schaefer, a college educator, blogger, speaker and consultant who specializes in corporate social media marketing workshops, remembers the person who told him that he had given up on Twitter because after constant promoting, nothing happened. “I told him that was exactly the problem,” Schaefer recalls. “People are sick of being sold to and advertised to. They are on the social web for connection, not to hear about your latest press release. So my advice is to approach Twitter in a way that builds relationships leading to benefits, not necessarily to promote a business.”

My advice is to approach Twitter in a way that builds relationships leading to benefits, not necessarily to promote a business.

Social media consultant Mark Schaefer

Schaefer explores this mindset extensively in his book, “The Tao of Twitter,” which now is being used as a textbook by more than 40 universities.

2. Don’t Be BRASH and Don’t Be RASH

Schaefer says that sometimes businesses overuse or force hashtags in an attempt to be cool. It’s important to know your audience and platform. When used appropriately, hashtags can provide useful context, facilitate communication and connect people with a common interest. Everyone benefits.

But when used excessively, they can create annoyance and frustration for your followers, causing them to disengage. Be judicious in your usage – use hashtags only when they will add value. Research the keyword and follow the discussion before you fire off a volley of self-promoting tweets. And then show some savvy and restraint – this generally means avoiding overt self-promotion and limiting hashtags to two per tweet.

Building relationships through social media is not a DASH; it’s a marathon. It takes time to build authentic relationships that will be mutually beneficial.

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3. Don’t tweet TRASH

In spring 2011 amid the conflict in Egypt, the fashion designer Kenneth Cole’s account tweeted:

“Millions are in an uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at…”

Although taking a hashtag that already was viral and co-opting it to gain attention for the Kenneth Cole brand seemed like a clever idea, nearly everyone found it to be in poor taste. The designer later was forced to make a public apology. Adding one or more hashtags to an unrelated tweet in an attempt to gain attention in a search generally is frowned upon. This definitely will get you unfollowed and could cause your account to be filtered from search or even get suspended.

Use hashtags only on tweets relevant to the topic. Other practices that are deemed unprofessional and violate Twitter’s rules (support.twitter.com/articles/18311) are:

  • Repeatedly tweeting the same topic/hashtag without adding value to the conversation in an attempt to get the topic trending higher
  • Tweeting about each trending topic in order to drive traffic to your profile, especially when mixed with advertising
  • Listing the trending topics in combination with a request to be followed
  • Tweeting about a trending topic and posting a misleading link to something unrelated

4. Tweet with PANACHE

Sharpie is one company that uses its hashtags successfully. With a little research, the manufacturer of writing instruments confirmed that its younger market enjoys self-expression. So it created a Twitter campaign designed to align the brand with artistry and creativity. Implementing promoted tweets with topics such as music, art and writing, Sharpie encouraged its followers to tag their conversations involving creativity as well as their artwork with the hashtag #Sharpie. By using the hashtag, Sharpie not only got people conversing and having fun, but it also promoted brand awareness. Its efforts resulted in a successful campaign that increased its Twitter following by 600 percent, with more than 1,000 new followers a day.

So, you’re still not sure about the hashtag how-to? Schaefer says don’t worry about making mistakes. “There are many wonderful and creative uses of hashtags. Just explore, learn and have fun.”

By Lorrie Bryan