Whether or not you’re using Twitter, have you heard the buzz around hashtags? It’s all about how some Twitter users are misusing hashtags in their tweets, causing angst and confusion for readers. Do you know if you’re using hashtags correctly?
On entrepreneur.com, Social Media Explorer CEO Jason Falls says Twitter users need to understand hashtags to use them correctly and to get the most out of the whole Twitter experience. And now that hashtags are being used across social platforms, specifically on Facebook and Google+, if you do not yet know how to use hashtags properly, now is a very good time to learn.
Actually, hashtags aren’t all that complicated. They’re simply a relevant word or series of characters that starts with the # symbol. Hashtags are organizing tools. They categorize messages, making it easier for other Twitter users to search for tweets. Clicking on a hashtag shows you the other tweets with that same hashtag. In an endless sea of tweets, hashtags make it easier to find other users with similar interests and conversations on topics you choose. Hashtags can be your ticket to engaging with others; using popular or widely used hashtags can put you in touch with millions of tweets and users.
As a business owner, you can create your own hashtag(s) to drive conversations about your business, sales, other events, new products, special offers, contests, giveaways, and so forth. Just tack your custom hashtag on the end of your tweet, and ask others to use it, too. At the end of the day (or the event or giveaway), do a scan for your hashtag to measure engagement.
Businesses should be creative with hashtags and make them distinctive, including the business’s name or at least, the initials. Do a quick search before using a particular hashtag to make sure it’s not already in use for something else. The ideal? For high visibility and engagement, getting a lot of tweets/users posting to the same hashtag in a short period of time. While you’re at it, locate some competitor hashtags to follow to stay current.
Sounds doable, huh? But here’s the rub. There are substantial numbers of users who, when promoting their businesses, products, events or whatever, have gotten carried away with hashtags, cramming as many as possible into a tweet so that it will pop up in conversations all over Twiiter. To be effective, hashtags need to be relevant to the tweet. Otherwise, they’re distractions or make your tweets look like spam. People tune them out. Falls provides a fictitious example of what not to do:
You should read Entrepreneur! Great magazine! #entrepreneur #finance #business #investing #nfl #potatoes #PowerRangers #Britney Spears
Inkling Media founder Ken Mueller is a little more intense in his comments on socialmediatoday.com. He provides his own example—an actual status update—of bad hashtag usage:
If #YOU had to #change in order to #succeed with #YOUR#social media efforts – could you? …HOW CAN I #HELP YOU?
Yikes! Strip out the hashtags, Mueller says, and the rest is “gobbledygook,” inappropriate caps, faux inspiration and all. But the biggest transgression here, he says, is misusing hashtags, which destroys the tweet. If you’re tempted to overload your tweets or throw in a few generic-word hashtags just for the heck of it, don’t do it. Instead, follow Mueller’s guidelines:
- Choose hashtags carefully. Think about the why behind the hashtag, which usually is helping others find you or your business.
- Use hashtags sparingly. Overuse defeats the purpose—one or two will usually do it, and you don’t need them at all in every single update. In the rare event that you think you MUST include multiple hashtags, space them out. If you tweet the same thing more than once, use different (but always relevant) tags.
- Test hashtags. You want your hashtags to be something relevant and in use. Create several and click on them to see what shows up. If it’s junk or stuff that’s all over the place, skip that hashtag and instead use something else. If you test a few and find several that are good and relevant, choose the top one or two. You can use others (if you have them) for multiple updates; just rotate them.
Commentary on technologyreveiw.com points out that users who insist on abusing hashtags are compromising Twitter’s biggest strength, its scannability. Furthermore, it says, putting a bunch of hashtags in the middle of tweets is just downright selfish! So if a hashtag can’t be fit into the postscript of a tweet, leave it out. Read the whole post here—and watch those hashtags.