7 Ways to Use Hashtags for Twitter and Facebook
Hashtags. Eight years ago they were little more than an idea for forming groups that didn't need excessive management. Nine years ago, they were a pound sign on your phone. Twenty years ago, no one really knew what they were.
Fast forward to a time when there is such a thing as overusing ironic hashtags and discussions on how many are appropriate on each social platform. Yes, we have arrived. Hashtags Have Arrived
In case you need to brush up on the basics, take a cue from Lindsay Kolowich and her excellent article on using hashtags on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Hashtags Evolve Faster Than We Can Create Them
It's safe to say that they're evolving and that no one knows for sure how we'll be using them even two years from now. But we can take a look at what's been happening recently on Twitter and Facebook, and make a few calls about where we might be headed.
Hashtags Enhance Community
Bottom line: Whether you're using social media for your personal brand or managing several clients, social media is all about community and using hashtags can be a great way to enhance that experience.
So let's get started:
1. The ironic hashtag is dead.
Just in case anyone was confused about this. And no, making the hashtag symbol with your fingers is not cool. Really. In case you're confused about this at all, just rewatch the Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon sketch. Classic and uncomplicated.
And that is really because:
2. Hashtags are ultimately going to become more useful.
Search is getting more complicated, more and more unstructured conversations are happening on Twitter and Facebook and hashtags are emerging as a great way to keep track of what you want to follow. Whether you're using hashtags to follow a Twitter chat, or to search for trending topics on Facebook, or to attract more followers to your page on Facebook, they're becoming a viable and useful way to manage topics you're interested in. And in that already cluttered environment, #ThisIsAPoundSign just gets annoying.
3. Some are predicting hashtags as the future of search:
I'm a huge fan of semantic search, but I've got to say that Sangeet Paul Choudary convinced me to think more deeply about the future of the lowly simple hashtag as an awesome way to search unstructured user generated content (that's what we're doing on social!) In fact, as he puts it, what a hashtag does, essentially, is flip things a bit. One of the things I admire so much about semantic search and the algorithms created is the sheer sophistication necessary to try to figure out, accurately, how to match searchers to good content. But, as Choudary says plaintively, it's still not great, and there's a long way to go before semantic search gives really great, accurate results. Wouldn't it be awesome if content creators could actually help search along by adding bits of information to their content that would allow people to find it? Hurray! This is pretty much what hashtags do. Let's use 'em.
And hashtags also help us form and build communities:
4. Which is huge for us when we're trying to build brands.
I'm going to say it right here, right now, though. Man, are we failing at this and gosh darn it all, could we please, please get a little better at finding and using good hashtags? Here is a great example, from a major brand. Sorry, Entertainment Weekly. I'm calling you out on this. Earlier while doing research for this very article, I happened upon a video. At the end of said video, I was asked to add to the story by submitting photos or comments to twitter with the hashtag #Enow. Well, great job, Entertainment Weekly. I went straight to that hashtag, and it's a good thing I speak French, because #Enow is actually the name of a very famous Cameroonian rapper and that hashtag is a very popular one dedicated to him, his music and his record label. So, could we please, from now on, just do a little work and research and claim your hashtag?
5. Speaking of research...
I'm going to go out on a limb here. We should all know by now that Twitter likes one or two hashtags but more seems spammy. Facebook, too, seems to work well with a couple hashtags placed at the end of the post (not in the actual content). Too many hashtags on either of these platforms is a bad idea. But beyond that, let's move toward a format that relaxes a little on the correlation between number of hashtag and engagement. Correlation does not equal causation, first of all. Second, it can get more than a little myopic. Social is, first and foremost, social. If you're posting pro-social posts that don't annoy, you're probably doing okay. If you're not sure whether you're annoying, well, check your engagement, look for clues, and follow the signs. As a social media aficionado, it's part of the job description (Ew! harsh words! But really? If you need to read an article to tell you #not #to #use #too #many #pointless #hashtags...)
Possibly exciting news for the future of hashtags:
6. Monetization using hashtags.
This one I'm a little skeptical about, but want to throw it out here to hear what people think of this. It's been bantered about since early 2012, and I understand the concept, but just am not convinced that it's not all hype. Then again, monetization tends to turn my refined starving artist persona into a puddle of confusion mixed with irritation at the "ization-ization" of our language. So perhaps, by allowing us to categorize and group by hashtag, we can also monetize. What say you of this?
And, finally, in case there was any doubt ( and there was, last spring):
7. Hashtags are here to stay.
I suppose that's a simple one. But even last spring, Twitter was rumoured to possibly ditch them. It's never easy to say for sure what's got traction and what's going to slide into oblivion. But now that we've got Facebook trending hashtags on the right sidebar, Instagram fully embracing hashtags (and more!) Twitter seems to understand that there's a future in them, universally.
So, that said, where should we go from here?
Hashtags Add Structure and Depth
Hashtags, used wisely, give structure and depth to the social conversation. They also allow the content creators to control who might see our stuff. They are, in many ways, the new keywords. And while keywords can be almost mysterious (be natural! not too many! use synonyms!) hashtags are incredibly straight forward.
Use a Well Known Hashtag to Join a Conversation
You want people to join you on Friday on Facebook? Kim Garst is killing it with #FacebookFriday at the moment. And how simple is that? You want people to find you for a certain event? Use the known hashtag on either Twitter or Facebook and be found outside your current circle of influence.
Hashtags Help Create Your Brand
And if you want to gather people around your brand, just make sure that the hashtag you use isn't already being used by someone else (yes, I'm calling you out, Entertainment Weekly!) A great example of this is Viral Content Buzz #VCBuzz. Used for the weekly Twitter chats, this hashtag groups all tweets together for easy searching.
Good luck with your hashtags and I look forward to hearing your thoughts...especially about monetization!