6 Rules for Using Hashtags Effectively

A hashtag can help social media marketers encourage and guide conversations related to your brand. When they succeed, hashtags provide a great means for you to create a community around a topic, to help people contribute to a bigger conversation related to your brand, to connect with your fans—and to have something measurable to present to the boss.

Unfortunately, hashtags often fail to give you a great ROI (or maybe ROH – return on hype – would be a better phrase). Sure, you might spend hours coming up with dozens of hashtag possibilities before landing on that perfect combo of brevity and clarity, but how can you make sure your new, beautiful branding device lives up to its potential?

If you’ve ever found yourself saying WTH?! when it comes to hashtag marketing, here are a few things you can do to get the most out of your brand’s latest hashtag.

Make the hashtag visible.

It sounds obvious, but making sure you put your hashtag to use at the brand level is the first step to promoting its use to your target audience—and this is often the first misstep.

Consistency is key: you have to put your hashtag everywhere to make sure people remember it.

Use your hashtag frequently and on multiple channels. Twitter and Instagram are the most popular social networks for tagging, but hashtags can also be effective on Facebook and even LinkedIn ("sort of"). Be sure to promote your hashtag outside of social, too. Think about your website, in-store signage (print and digital), packaging, uniforms, stickers, flyers, menus, and the like. Figure out where your customers are when they would ideally use the hashtag, and find a way to put it in front of them in that moment.

Reward fans who use it.

It's not just about pushing out a hashtag and sitting back and hoping for the best. You have to work it. You need to promote your hashtag every day, and one of the best ways to do that is by finding, recognizing and rewarding users who have joined the conversation.

When people use your hashtag, do a happy dance (if there's time) and engage with the post:

  • Like it.
  • Comment on it.
  • Share it.
  • Send them a message to say thanks for the shout-out.

A little bit of recognition goes a long way.

You can also offer a reward to those who use the hashtag. Just don't expect someone to use up their own social media in exchange for something small like a coupon. Put something exciting on the line, like special access or an exclusive experience. One example: Oreo’s Super Bowl ads asked viewers to join the #OreoDunkSweepstakes for a chance to meet Shaquille O'Neal or Christina Aguilera.

If you're really good, you can scout for the best hashtag uses and then reward after the fact—these are called post-action rewards (PARs). When you surprise people with a reward, it not only reinforces the behavior (in this case, participating in the hashtag conversation), it also encourages significantly more word-of-mouth marketing. People love to share unexpected, happy events in their lives. Think about all the wedding proposals, celebrity sightings, random acts of kindness, and other surprisingly delightful events your friends frequently share online. Now consider how your brand could instigate that random, exciting event for your fans.

This Sports Illustrated article has some great examples of social media being used to reward NHL fans. The most pertinent example is the #YoTographer Instagram campaign used by The Arizona Coyotes. Here’s the money quote from Marissa O'Connor, the social media manager for the team: “We ask fans to upload their best shot of the night before the end of the second period, then we go through all posts with #YoTographer and select our favorite one. That person gets their photo re-grammed on our account and gets to watch the third period on the glass with the professional photographers. It makes them a true ‘Yotographer.’”

Now that’s a great way to use a hashtag to encourage authentic brand conversations!

Employ a live hashtag feed.

A live feed is a one-two punch for recognizing people and promoting your hashtag’s use. Live feeds (also sometimes called "social walls") allow you to display everyone's hashtagged content in real-time, whether that's on your website or in your lobby. This is a great way to combine your brand posts with user-generated content (UGC) in a fun, engaging display that will encourage even more participation.

There are tons of digital vendors you can partner with to provide a professional live feed for your business or event. Services vary based on price and features, such as the ability to curate posts (versus feeds that show any and all posts that use your tag, which is, in many cases, a huge risk).

Some popular live hashtag feed services include:

  • TintUp – UGC content aggregator for live displays, websites, and more
  • Twubs – Free Twitter hashtag monitoring and website embedding
  • Sharypic – Paid platform for social media walls at events
  • Olapic – Paid “earned content platform” for curating user-generated content
  • Enplug – High-end digital display system that includes a social media wall feature
  • PulseBox – Ohio-based social media displays service

These feeds can be used in tons of cool ways. I’ve seen them deployed successfully on websites, in corporate lobbies, inside bars, on a billboard outside the bar, on the jumbotron at Reds and Bengals games, and on screens in between speakers at industry events. Don’t forget about your email list, too. (Tip: There’s a local Cincinnati startup that allows you to quickly pull social content into your e-blasts.)

Leverage influencers.

Come out of the gate strong by leveraging a group of people who can push the hashtag out early and often.

Visibility will be the key to launching strong and sustaining your success, and there’s no better way to get high-quality eyes on your hashtag than by tapping local influencers and micro-influencers to spread the word to their friends and fans. Search out the people in your target community who are very active on hashtag-friendly platforms like Twitter and Instagram, and think of ways you can include them in your campaign. This might include paying professional bloggers to write a post, or you could employ a strategy where you invite users to special events or offer up VIP treatment in exchange for social media participation.

Check out my 2017 social media strategy post for more information about micro-influencer marketing.

In the same vein, don't forget that your own employees can and should be your biggest advocates. Make sure your internal stakeholders (everyone from the CEO to the sales team to the receptionist) understand the goals behind your new hashtag. Encourage them to engage with it using their personal accounts, and make sure to explain what’s appropriate. Even better, invite your team to help you in the planning process early on, so your coworkers will take part in ensuring the hashtag’s success.

Promote a hashtag people will want to use.

There are plenty of articles out there that provide great tips for creating a tag for your brand, usually with pointers like "keep it short" and "keep it simple." But there is one thing I’d like to add: 

It is immensely helpful if your hashtag does NOT include your company name. 

Unless you’re trying to get people to #ShareACoke, or your brand is a TV Show like the #AmazingRace, chances are good that most people won’t want to tag your business name in their post.

Learn from the best.

For some extra hashtag inspiration, here are a few of my favorite non-branded brand hashtags:

  • #TweetFromTheSeat (Charmin)
  • #LikeAGirl (Always)
  • #PutACanOnIt (Red Bull)
  • #CollegeIn5Words (Denny’sNote: Denny’s didn’t create this one, but creatively took advantage of the trend.
  • #ThrowMeBack (Expedia)
  • #NoFunLeague (GNC)
  • #RuleYourself / #IWILL (UnderArmour)

Over to You

What’s your favorite brand hashtag campaign? Have a question, or a tip we missed? Let me know in the comments!