Hashtags have become a ubiquitous identity feature on social media platforms, especially on Twitter. Other platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google Plus, YouTube and Tumblr also use hashtags to organise their content. Social media users are very much conversant with the word(s) which are prefixed with the hash (#) sign.
On 23rd August 2007, Chris Messina, a former Google employee, tweeted the first ever hashtag about the need to use hashtags for grouping topics on Twitter. Though Twitter did not immediately buy into the idea, some citizen journalists started using hashtag #SanDiegoFire to update their followers about the forest fires in Southern California. Then Twitter users bought into this novel idea and started using hashtags in their tweets.
As a result, Twitter responded after two years. On 2nd July 2009, Twitter created hyperlinks on all hashtags to make it easier for its users to find tweets just by clicking on the hashtag. Hyperlinks are created instantly whenever Twitters users prefix any word(s) with the hash symbol. This makes hashtag a “search link”. You can now find all the tweets with the same hashtag in search results when you click the hashtag.
How to create hashtags
To create a hashtag, select words or phrases you want to use and put them together as one word. They can be your products or services, company name, tagline, brand values, promotion code, campaign title or call-to-action (CTA). For example, we can create hashtags such #GraphicBusiness, #TopBusinessNewspaper, or #ConnectWithMaximus. Use the unique word(s) which are not popular so people can easily associate it with your business or brand alone.
Uses of hashtags
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Some of the main uses of hashtags across different social media platforms are as follows:
Brand identity: Businesses differentiate themselves from their competitors or the clutter in their market segment by creating bespoke hashtags. These hashtags are unique so as to reinforce their brand identity. One of the trended hashtags in 2016 was #PokemanGo, for the augmented reality video game from Nintendo. It had over 650 million downloads in mobile app stores and became the fastest mobile game to earn $600 million in revenue in just 90 days. Their unique brand name was their hashtag. Use your company as a hashtag.
Promotions: Use your promotion tagline or code as a hashtag during marketing campaigns to enable your target audience to participate in the specific promotion. For example, if Graphic Business wants its Twitter and Facebook audience to get discounts on adverts, they can choose “AdsInGB” as the promotion code. The audience will be expected to tweet at Graphic Business using the hashtag #AdsInGB. Graphic Business will search for the tweets or posts using the hashtag, find all those who used it and select those who qualify for the discount.
Social campaigns: When Boko Haram kidnapped over 200 young girls in Nigeria, it triggered the use of the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. This hashtag trended for over 10 months on Twitter and other platforms. The former First Lady of the United States of America, Mrs Michelle Obama, and other celebrities also joined the campaign to put pressure on the Nigerian government to rescue the girls. OccupyGhana, a civil society group, started the popular #RedFriday as a fashion protest campaign on social media to enable Ghanaians to virtually speak against bad governance in Ghana. It requires participants to ‘wear their voices’ (red attires or accessories), take a picture and share their views in posts using the hashtag #RedFriday. Use hashtags to drive your corporate social campaigns.
Call-To-Action: You can instruct your social media audience to redeem a discount, get a deal or buy your product using a hashtag. Examples are #BuyGraphicBusinessNow, or #BuyOneGetOneFree. Be creative about CTA hashtags.
Signature: Social media users use hashtags as virtual signatures in every tweet or post so their followers and fans will associate those peculiar hashtags with them. Businesses also use hashtags consistently during campaign or promotion periods to reinforce the message. Create a signature hashtag for your posts or tweets when running promotions or campaigns.
Support services: Some businesses prefix their names with “Ask” or “Engage” to create hashtags for their support or customer service. For example, I can create hashtag #AskMaximus or #EngageMaximus, to enable my readers or audience to ask me anything relating to digital marketing on selected platforms. Create a support service hashtag (#AskYourBusinessName) for your business.
Content optimisation: Tweets or posts with hashtags are indexed by social media platforms in order to make it searchable for the users of the platforms. The platforms measure tweets or posts with hashtags as more relevant than those without hashtags. Use hashtags to make your content more visible or optimised.
Engagements: Media houses engage their audiences by asking the latter to submit their views and opinions about topical issues using the former’s advertised hashtags. The media outfits search for the tweets or posts using their hashtags and read or display them live on air. Create a hashtag using a theme relating to your products or services to engage your audience.
Rules for hashtags
1. Avoid using too many hashtags in a tweet. That’s hashtag spamming.
2. Not all hashtags trend or become popular. They trend as wide and longer as they are or remain relevant to the target audience.
3. Create your own hashtags and publicise them in all your posts. Place them on your brand materials (such as T-shirts, flyers, banners, call cards, billboards and branded cars) to make them visible.