Although it’s been nearly a decade since hashtags first appeared on social networking sites, there are many ecommerce business owners who have no idea how to use them properly. In fact, some merchants don’t bother with hashtags at all because they are afraid they might backfire and hurt their business.
However, if you aren’t using hashtags on social media, you are missing out on the potential to significantly increase customer engagement and boost your brand’s visibility. And that’s exactly why you’re on social media in the first place, right?
So whether you are on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or all of the above, you can harness the power of hashtags to expand your reach. Here are five smart tips to get you started.
Tip #1: Know the hashtag rules of each platform
Hashtags may all serve the same general purpose, but how they are used varies across each social networking site. You will need to have a slightly different strategy for each platform if you want to get the most out of your social media marketing strategy.
Twitter was the first to use hashtags back in 2007 and they are still used today. Because tweets with hashtags get twice as much engagement as tweets without hashtags, businesses are big on using them. But, with Twitter’s 140-character limit, you won’t see more than two or three hashtags in a single tweet.
Instagram has a hashtag limit of 30, giving businesses a lot more to work with. As a result, hashtags are everywhere on Instagram, and users love them. On this platform, you will see businesses use a lot more hashtags, and they will often be a mix of descriptive phrases, branded terms and whatever is currently trending.
The key takeaway here is that every social networking platform will have different rules and expectations on how to use hashtags. Make sure that you tailor your strategy to each platform.
Tip #2: Hashtags are powerful – just not in excess
Just because Instagram allows you to have 30 hashtags doesn’t mean that you should. Using too many hashtags can lower engagement and hurt your social media campaign.
There are plenty of studies that will tell you the ideal number of hashtags for each platform, but you are better off using these studies as a starting point. Experiment yourself to find your sweet spot that engages your followers.
Tip #3: Be aware (but wary) of trends
On many social media sites there is a “Trending Topics” feature that shows you what topics and hashtags are currently trending in your area. These topics can change quickly, but you can insert your business into the conversation by using a hashtag that is currently trending. While it’s an excellent way to increase your brand’s visibility, it can backfire if you use trending hashtags too often.
There are also hashtags that are always popular. You may have heard of #ThrowBackThursday, where users post older pictures to relive a memory on a Thursday. Many Instagram users search for #dogsofinstagram and businesses, such as Natural Balance, have used the hashtag to promote their products.
Tip #4: Do your research when creating your own hashtags
Sometimes, a business will create their own hashtags to market and promote their brand during product launches or special events. A great example of this is Coca Cola’s #ShareaCoke campaign, where they encouraged consumers to post their own stories using the hashtag.
No matter how big or small your e-commerce store is, you can also take advantage of this strategy. However, researching your branded hashtag is immensely important. McDonald’s knows this lesson well after their disastrous #McDStories hashtag campaign.
Before you roll out your own hashtag campaign, search for it on Pinterest, Facebook, Google+, Twitter and Instagram to make sure that it isn’t already taken. Keep your hashtag short and unique, and also think about the potential implications so that you don’t make the same mistake that McDonald’s did.
Tip #5: Keep search in mind
When using hashtags, it’s important to remember that hashtags are searched for on social media platforms similarly to how regular searches are conducted on search engines. You should know your target audience well so that you can hone in on the common search terms they might use to search for your products.
For example, if you sell clothing for men, a #skinnyjeans hashtag may attract more women than men. Just by replacing it with #mensskinnyjeans, you can better target the customers that will be interested in your post. Avoid being too specific; otherwise, you may exclude many who would otherwise buy from you!
Also, remember to keep your hashtags short and sweet because that’s how users search for topics on social media platforms. Occasionally, some businesses will use long hashtags ironically, but hashtags are intended to make finding content easier, and it’s best if you keep them short.
Using hashtags on social media platforms isn’t as straightforward as some would like to think. There are different rules – both written and unwritten – that apply to the use of hashtags. As long as you make an effort to know the rules and how hashtags work on each social media platform, you should have no trouble leveraging them to expand your reach.
Erika Brookes is the Chief Marketing Officer at Springbot where she leads all brand, product, marketing campaigns and communications. Before joining Springbot, Erika was the vice president of product strategy for Oracle, the vice president of marketing and communications at Vitrue, and other executive-level marketing positions at leading technology companies like MindSpring, Earthlink and Rackspace. In her limited free time, you’ll find Erika running through Atlanta with her yellow labrador Sunny or sharing marketing insights on Twitter @ebrookes.
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