If you’ve ever created a hashtag for your brand, you understand the struggle summed up in this Onion headline: “2-Hour Meeting Spent Thinking Up Hashtag Absolutely Nobody On Planet Earth Will Ever Use.”
The article may be hilarious, but losing hours to a hashtag – only to have it disappear into the social media mist – isn’t.
To relieve some of your #HashtagStress, I spoke with Ryan Hansen (@), manager of social media at PR Newswire. He provided his hashtag insight amidst his daily schedule of promoting blog posts, press releases, events and additional content across PR Newswire’s social media accounts.
They Are #Relevant In The Right Places
One might be tempted to push aside hashtags and concentrate on other marketing strategies. Ryan advises against that, citing how hashtags are the “filing system” for what is often the chaos of social media. They make topics that are complex or broad-reaching easier to search for and sort through.
“From trending topics to ongoing industry conversations, hashtags can say a lot in a little package,” Ryan says.
And the best platforms for hashtags? “Twitter and Instagram mostly,” he confirms, adding that LinkedIn isn’t the place for them. And although Facebook will accept hashtags, “I don’t believe they enhance your posts that much. I find it much more effective to tag people, places or pages instead.”
Start #TheConversation On The Right Foot
No one wants to talk with someone who pushes or over-promotes their viewpoint. Similarly, you don’t want hashtags to present your brand’s message in an aggressive way.
Each platform has its own best practices and social customs. For Twitter it is best to keep to only one or two hashtags per Tweet, due to the 140 character limit.
Instagram doesn’t have the same limit – especially with many users adding hashtags in their posts’ comments – but it is important to rein in how many you use.
“You can add up to thirty, but it is not recommended. Do your research and add six to ten really powerful ones,” Ryan recommends.
There’s something else to keep in mind with Instagram: the size of your existing audience. “The more followers you have, the less hashtags you will need.”
In that case, target your hashtags towards the audiences you are most interested in attracting. This reduction does have a limit, though. As Ryan points out, “We aren’t all Kim K who really doesn’t use them at all and still gets 500k likes regularly.”
What if you’ve decided to join a conversation by using a hashtag that’s already out there? That’s great, says Ryan.
“When there is a trending topic relative to what we share on social, we will absolutely jump into the conversation.”
But be wise about which conversations you join. Make sure you understand the hashtag’s origin and current use. If the hashtag involves slang, consider how it could be misinterpreted by your audience.
Ten minutes of research today can save hours of PR clean-up tomorrow.
Time To #MakeTheHashtag!
So, you’re making a hashtag but there are eight facets of your campaign you want to promote, so…eight hashtags?
“Creating a custom hashtag for everything is too difficult to track. In addition, it makes it difficult to gain traction,” Ryan says.
Consistency is “something that people like from brands when it comes to social media.”
Limit your campaigns to one branded hashtag, and follow these three pieces of advice from Ryan:
Character Count: Stick between 6-11 characters.
Visual Appeal: Your hashtag should look good. Judiciously mixing upper and lowercase letters is one way to catch your audience’s eyes, but “pairing together two words that end and start with the same letter always bothers me!” Ryan says.
Easy to Type and Spell: Keep things simple by using “something people are used to, not overly complex.” A misspelling can throw off an entire campaign, especially if it introduces salaciousness or irony – the internet loves a crazy coincidence. “That doesn’t do your brand any good,” Ryan says.
What To Do When You’ve #GotOne
Your hashtag is made and ready to go, and you know all the best practices for the platforms. Time to put it out there!
But don’t send it out into the world alone. Integrate it into a larger push across all marketing channels.
“We’ll tie hashtag promotion directly to event and content promotions and follow through to blog posts, press releases, et cetera,” Ryan says.
For instance, when PR Newswire reached out to the communications industry in 2015 and asked people for their personal definitions of PR, the #PRisNow hashtag was used to generate, gather and promote audience responses.
As the article 5 Steps to Unlocking Successful User-Generated Content shows, the campaign was successful because the hashtag was not only used in social media outreach, but also in blog posts, messaging to employee advocates, and influencer pitches.
Social media connects to so much today. If you’re consistent with your hashtag across paid, earned, owned and social channels, you can “…brand your own little niche in the social stratosphere – and beyond.”
Did The Hashtag #DoTheJob?
How do you know your hashtag has been successful? That is up to your organization and your campaign goals. Choose the metrics most important to you and let them guide you. Consistently track them, making notes of things you did and didn’t try and what effect they had.
“Retweeting, sharing, the amount of likes on a certain post…” are all things Ryan looks at, but he tends to put more weight in clicks to promoted links.
Understanding the long-term impact of your hashtag is also important.
Even if someone missed the beginning of your campaign, the right hashtag can extend your message’s shelf-life and offer audiences a starting point to join the conversation at their own convenience.
Thanks to plucky and persistent hashtags, Ryan often sees hits to links long after their initial promotion.
Check in and monitor your hashtags regularly. You’ll be amazed at “the ability for someone to come across a campaign or content even when it hasn’t been promoted in a while,” says Ryan.
And Of Course, #NeverStopLearning
“There’s no true exact science,” Ryan admits. “It’s constantly in flux. Social media is still evolving at such a fast pace.”
These guidelines will be helpful now, but if you never experiment or explore the social media landscape, you’ll get left behind.
“You have to have a certain amount of flexibility and even curiosity to keep up,” Ryan says. “It is still a bit of trial by fire.”
Curiosity is key to all content marketing success, and you can’t underestimate the importance of promotion and distribution.
Download Why Content Marketing’s Really a Question of Marketing Your Content and learn how to reach the right people with the content you’ve invested time and money into.
Scott Hicken is the product manager for PR Newswire’s SocialPost, which helps customers’ stories reach more than 55,000 Twitter followers across nearly 50 industry-specific handles. He also manages iReach, Microlists, Capital Markets Visibility lists, Feature News, and Customer Account Post. Connect with him on LinkedIn.