Why Hashtags Matter for Today’s Brands

Is there any real value in attaching a hashtag to your posts? Do they deliver anything at all? How do you know if your hashtagging practices are actually reaching desired audiences and attracting more customers?

The hashtag frenzy continues with no sign of abatement, from the mom posting those adorable pictures of the kids, to the millennial sharing every second and aspect of his or her daily life, to the small or large business trying to connect with new or existing audiences.

Rarely is a photo, comment, opinion, quip, response, etc. posted on any of the major social platforms without the seemingly requisite hashtag followed shortly thereafter.

As the business world continues to try to understand and leverage this whole social media thing, hashtags present yet another potentially confounding dynamic. Even for those who have deployed hashtag strategies, it’s fair to ask the question: #DoHashtagsMatter? Is there any real value in attaching a hashtag to your posts? Do they deliver anything at all? How do you know if your hashtagging practices are actually reaching desired audiences and attracting more customers?

Agencies responsible for developing and executing content marketing campaigns for their clients are consistently asked to weigh in with their strategic hashtag ideas and recommendations. They, too, are faced with addressing these complicated questions for which there are no obvious answers. When done properly and strategically and consistent with the organization’s tone and brand, a hashtag campaign can be effective for a number of reasons:

Building brand-name recognition: New brands can use their name in a hashtag to gain recognition and build equity. Brand-name hashtags provide an easy way for people to find and follow a brand. As customers begin using the name hashtag, it builds rapport for the brand and its users.

Finding your target audience: Concurrently, new brands can participate in trending hashtag conversations, which grants them exposure to already existing audiences and topics. Brands should be respectful and only join in conversations where they can be relevant and authentic. This develops their brand voice and trust among communities. Within these conversations, brands can begin to research and study the community affinities and hone in on what truly matters to them. Ultimately, this empowers brands to learn more about their target audience and cater to them.

Hashtag campaigns: Once equity and recognition are established with users, brands can roll out campaign hashtags with less overt branding, based on the target audience affinities and marketing initiatives. Brand engagement is built as brands speak directly to their target audience affinities and results in valuable content.

Like anything and everything else when it comes to the intersection of business and social media, organizations must adhere to some fairly stringent ground rules when it comes to using hashtags:

  • Always research a hashtag before using it. The internet can be a weird place, and often, there are conversations and topics associated with hashtags that are better not to be associated with. Make sure it is a good fit.
  • Check for double meanings behind hashtags that may send a different message than what you are looking for.
  • Do not use hashtags for sarcasm or in place of actual sentences. Hashtags are great for organizing and archiving content, so they should be short and distinctive.
  • Capitalize the first letter of each word in the hashtag. It is easier for your user to read and remember.
  • Do not go overboard with hashtags, especially when using them in-line. The best practice is to place them at the end of your post.

As with other marketing initiatives, measurement and flexibility is a key to hashtagging success. Organizations need to ensure that they are tracking the outcomes of their hashtag efforts and are nimble enough to make changes and tweaks as needed. After all, even the best social media intentions can wind up hurting a brand, and the launch of a hashtag is no different.

Tools like Keyhole, Tag Sleuth and Sprout Social can help organizations monitor and understand which hashtags are most valuable and which ones need rethinking.

While organizations must tread with caution, the benefits of using hashtags must be considered as part of the overall social and digital strategy, especially by those that rely on content as pat of their marketing strategies. The key is ensuring that hashtag strategies are built on solid research and accompany content that actually adds value to the target audiences’ lives.

Ethan Martin is director of strategy for Bukwild, an interactive design and digital content agency specializing in connecting businesses, brands and users.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.