Social hashtags, like domain names, seem all taken already, don’t they? But if you look hard enough at your brand and its core values – and especially its deeper meaning to its target audiences – you may well unearth some hashtags that can be gems, and turn into valuable brand assets. In some cases, hashtags have become so synonymous with the brands whose qualities they stand for, that we now have hashtags becoming calculable assets when measuring brand equity. Instead of letting your hashtags become just creative happenstances – a searchability device that helps people find your Content For Social Media – develop a deliberate hashtag strategy and you’ll soon be able to reap the financial rewards of it if you really put your marketing muscle behind it.
Tweetbinder have also created a formula for calculating the economic value of a hashtag – because as they say: “Every single hashtag on Twitter has an economic market value that can be calculated. This economic market value is generated by people using the hashtag, which generates impacts for a brand. It is known that many platforms permit users to earn money by tweeting. And brands can also pay Twitter to advertise their hashtags with Twitter Ads.” Of course social hashtags are not just for Twitter, now almost every social channels encourages the use of hashtags!
Can hashtags be trademarked … that’s the first question any brand should tackle!
According to SecureYourTrademark.com here’s the legal position: “You can trademark a hashtag so long as you are providing a product or service to the general public associated with that hashtag. You can use a hashtag as a brand name or slogan for your product or service, in much the same way that any other name or phrase or combination of words can be used to brand a product or service. In order to register a trademark for a hashtag, you must demonstrate to the United States Patent and Trademark Office that you are using that hashtag to promote or sell your products or services.”
Trademarking a hashtag will not prevent people from using it on Twitter. It is important to keep in mind that others may use the Twitter hashtag, and a trademark will not give you legal recourse if someone uses it in a way that you disagree with. Trademark protection serves to prevent companies and service providers within the same industry from using your hashtag to compete with you. While Twitter does respond to trademark violations, they only do so when one party is using another party’s trademark to mislead consumers.
Large companies like Coca-Cola have already registered Twitter hashtags as trademarks, specifically #cokecanpics and #smilewithacoke.”
Okay, so that’s good news that brands can coin, arrogate and make hashtags their own property! Now let’s look at what exactly brands can see as immediate gains by using hashtags on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+ or any of the social channels.
Benefits to brands from hashtag usage – the statistics are neither here nor there!
Twitter’s own research into hashtags confirms this:
Tweets with hashtags (the # symbol, immediately followed by the subject or keyword related to the Tweet) can increase engagement almost 100% (2x) for individuals and 50% (1.5x) for brands.”
Another interesting quote comes from ChloeSocial on hashtag-benefits for brands:
Tweets that include hashtags are 55% more likely to be retweeted and posts on Instagram with 11+ hashtags receive the highest engagement.”
If those two pieces of reaserach seem to point out at the pros of social hashtags, there’s a bit of doubt about the cons of “brand-name hashtags” … as Ben Plomium explains in his article “What’s the Value of a Hashtag? The Pros and Cons for Marketers”:
I wanted to know how consumers feel about branded hashtags, so we conducted a simple survey in conjunction with SurveyMonkey. Some core findings:
• When we asked if survey participants (200+ in the U.S., August 2016) had ever shared an image of a brand-name product, 56% said yes. Drilling down by age, a significantly higher percentage of millennials (64%) have shared an image of a brand-name product on social media vs. the all-ages group.
• When asked if they used a hashtag with the product name for the last brand-name product image they shared on social media, a majority (59%) in the all-ages group said no. Less than one-third (30%) answered yes, while another 11% couldn’t remember if they did or not. Among under-35s, 37% said they did use a branded hashtag, but then again 24% said they couldn’t remember if they did or not.
• Among under-35s, 41% selected “It feels forced” in response to the question “How do you feel about brand-specific and brand-generated hashtags when you see them on other people’s posts?” — vs. the 34% who selected “It feels forced” among the all-ages group.
The bottom line: The proliferation of smartphones and image-centric apps have made communicating about brands with images nearly effortless for consumers. A hashtag takes some extra effort, and it’s clear that some consumers just won’t play ball. Millennials seem a little more inclined to use them than older consumers — but then again they’re a little more judgmental (“It feels forced”) when other people use them.
How can your brand create its own hashtag strategy and assets? Here’s a 10-step plan!
Despite the evidence for and against hashtags, I’d still be tempted to use them – if not for any other reason, than for sheer practical value, in increasing searchability of content on the social media.
The steps below can all be useful at one time or another, but if you follow them in the order I have given here, your strategy will lay itself out very clearly, and you will be able to get a systematic process in place.
Step One: First, know why you need a hashtag and how you will use it!
Very often brands tend to hunt for hashtags just before a Tweetchat is planned or to make people aware of an event, a webinar or a contest. In other words, these are the kind of hashtags that drive “high points” in a brand’s life, but there’s another reason for using hashtags entirely, which you should consider. A brand like Nike, for instance, can convert its tagline into a hashtag – and thus have #justdoit as an attitude towards life they promote as the core brand value.
Some brands espouse corporate social responsibility causes and may use hashtags to spur public activism. In other cases, brands may want to just reflect their essential values in a pithy statement (rather like a longer tagline used to do for them in the earlier days of advertising), and so the hashtag may be a smart condensation of what the brand stands for. Are you going to use the hashtag to denote events or are you going to use it perennially as your “social media tagline”? That question will help you decide what kind of hashtag to go for, and when and how to use it.
Step Two: Learn from the best in the business. Look at the hashtags of solid brands!
After you’ve decided what kind of hashtag you want, look around for great examples. The more variety of hashtags you look at, the more your own ideas will take shape. See which big brands have used “attitude hashtags, “brand value tags”, “event-based tags” or “audience-spurring tags”. See how the anatomy of the tags – the sequence of words in the tag – have been strung together. This research is important, because it may show you a variety of styles you can adopt.
Step Three: Coin your hashtag with care. See that its spelling or translation in other languages isn’t a disaster!
Do you all remember the awful embarrassment when the hashtag “#susanalbumparty” was launched to give Susan Boyle the PR push before the launch of her musical album? What a frightful disaster … look how many different ways that hashtag can be split into smaller words. Can’t have been funny for the creator of that hashtag! More recently I saw a hashtag that meant something really awful in another language and became a total disgrace for the brand, before it was hurriedly pulled off the social networks. It was too horrible to mention here!
Step Four: Make sure the hashtag is short enough to allow retweets or @names. You don’t want a “#hashtagof120characters”!
If a hashtag is so long that it eats up valuable tweet-space, what’s the whole idea? The purpose is to make the hashtag popular by making it frequently shared and retweeted. There is some research that says between 1-3 hashtags is good and okay, but if you are a brand with a message to convey, don’t clutter up your available space with too many hashtags competing for attention. Wherever possible, integrate the hashtag into the main sentence of the message rather than letting it hang as an adjunct to the message. That saves space, and also gives the hashtag more value via context.
Step Five: Always develop at least a dozen alternatives for your important hashtag and market-test it!
Try out different synonyms, different word sequences, capitalization of letters and syntax – see what works best for the brand and has meaning for the target audiences of the brand. And remember that the words must look good not just when written, but also when read or said – as in a video voiceover or podcast! The words have to be emotive and drive action. In many cases, your hashtag can also be a powerful call-to-action! So make sure there are verbs as well as nouns or adjectives in the hashtag!
Step Six: Before you begin to use the hashtag liberally, give your target audiences a flavour of how to use it!
The brand has to lead the way. If the first two dozen tweets from the company set the pattern of usage for the hashtag, the crowds on the social media will generally follow suit. Make it clear how and when the hashtag can be used, and also subtly monitor wrong usage and correct it whenever you can. Don’t allow hashtag hijacking by inimical audiences (a la McDonalds’ hashtag gaffe!).
Step Seven: To give the hashtag traction, try launching it on the back of a suitable trending topic!
You need to be on the lookout for opportunities in trending events, news or happenings, that favour an opinion or a public stance by your brand, at just the right time. It needn’t always be a random bit of trending news, you could also find opportunity in a competitor’s rocky phase to launch your own hashtag at the right moment. Use the strength of contextual events to give your hashtag its initial momentum.
Step Eight: Use your hashtag frequently, so that it becomes part of the brand vocabulary and becomes very visible!
Your brand’s hashtag needs to be used in a consistent and prolific way, across diverse social channels. These days hashtags are also seen on visiting cards, stationery, email signatures and even at times on website mastheads. The more your hashtag is visible, the more its value as a brand asset increases, because of its ability to mean more to more people.
Step Nine: Don’t just use your hashtag in messages, promote it as a piece of microcontent!
A hashtag is a complete piece of content in itself. It is a very short but very potent piece of content. It cannot be just seen as part of the tactics used by the brand to categorize or segment audiences on the social media. If you can develop a hashtag marketing promotional plan it would be invaluable to your brand. The smaller the screen size gets (with new wearable devices challenging longer brand messages), think what the short hashtag can do as “shorthand” for all the values your brand stands for!
Step Ten: Research the data on your hashtag’s performance. Stay in touch with the numbers!
As attention spans of users get shorter, and devices get smaller, and messages have to become “scannable”, hashtags are increasingly going to become an immensely valuable tools in the arsenals of brands. Hashtags will acquire equity, and as with domain names, will also start acquiring higher and higher resale value. It pays to keep track of the performance of your hashtag, not just in customer conversion, but as a quantifiable asset in and of itself.
A few more best practices to follow in using social hashtags!
How can you find the best hashtags to use in social posts?
Finding the best hashtags to use within your social media content should not be a guessing game. Each platform has a search bar for you to browse possible hashtags for your content, but those search features are generally superficial, and don’t always give you an idea of how popular the hashtag is. Two ideal tools to use could be RiteTag or Hashtagify. Such tools show you the most popularly used hashtags on any topic, and if you follow their advice you will at least be using tags that nearly 70%-90% of people on the social web use.
How many hashtags should you use in one social post?
The number of hashtags you use depends on which platform you’re posting to. A hashtag strategy is not one-size-fits-all when it comes to the various social media networks. In fact, on some platforms, it’s better not to use any hashtags in your posts.
SproutSocial recommends the following plan:
- Facebook – 0 hashtags
- Twitter – 1-2 hashtags
- Instagram – up to 30 hashtags
- Pinterest – 0 hashtags
- LinkedIn – 2-3 hashtags
If you believe in this, make sure you keep count. To me, I think it’s more important to see if your hashtags are increasing the engagement with your social posts or not. If not, I’d drop most hashtags except a maximum of three, all of which are either for searchability, or for brand name recall built up over time.
So what are your thoughts on this topic? Do share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of aspiring digital solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us in the comments field below this post.
Other articles in our series “Content For Social Media”:
- Find Instagram Influencers In Your Niche: Right Picks For Solopreneurs!
- Extract Maximum Traffic From Social Media – Tactics For Solopreneurs!