4 ways PR and marketing pros can use hashtags

This is the year of the social media symbol, with more and more campaigns using it. Follow this guide to ensure you use them correctly. 

Loved by some and loathed by others, hashtags have become Twitter’s most divisive tool since their introduction in August 2007. This year, however, is when the humble hashtag will truly reach maturity.

The hashtag is one of the most fundamental elements in social communications, with 83 percent of all social campaigns in the past year featuring nothing more than a prominent hashtag. PR and marketing professionals should pay attention, because they will be the key to campaign success in 2015.

Here are 4 ways brand managers can use hashtags to get the best results:

1. Increase your brand’s engagement.

Tweets with hashtags receive two times more engagement than those without, and tweets with one hashtag are 55 percent more likely to be retweeted.

Hashtags act as simple signposts for the social community, directing them to content (including yours) that is relevant to their interests. Despite the broad reach of social media, hashtags help to create an engaged follower base through specificity.

They’ve also now become a staple for journalists, both in sharing news to drive website traffic and for monitoring a developing story. Turn on any TV-news channel and you will likely find breaking news stories that were informed by or use photos and videos from Twitter. Trending topic #JeSuisCharlie appeared in 5 million tweets in the first three days alone, first appearing just a matter of hours after the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

2. Create and join debates.

In the past year, many businesses and industries have used hashtags to promote conversations with their audiences. Weekly debates centered on a specific hashtag—such as #PRtalk—enable like-minded Twitter users to discuss and answer common questions.

Sports clubs have been quick to pick up on these, to great success, allowing fans to ask questions aimed at managers and players, creating greater engagement and promoting transparency.

These group conversations (often called Twitter chats) require little effort and can be a great way to link a brand to a specific topic. Here are five steps to success:

1. Identify your audience and their interests 2. Earmark a hashtag and a regular time for the discussion 3. Set a question for the week and promote it to interested parties 4. Start the conversation at the given time and get involved where you think you can add value 5. Analyze, learn and repeat

3. Increase your reach by carefully choosing hashtags.

Many brands, PR pros and marketers want to create viral content to increase reach. However, you should exercise caution when creating a hashtag.

Without understanding your audience and how they react to your content you expose yourself and risk the hashtag getting away from you. Be sensible and only create something that aligns with your brand’s development. Don’t jump on the latest trend on a whim.

Though some hashtags were great successes, others failed miserably. Beware.

4. Use the proper social networks.

Though Twitter is the most commonly used social media platform for hashtags, they’ve evolved beyond Twitter and are now used across almost every social network.

However, that doesn’t mean you should be using them everywhere.

Facebook introduced hashtags in 2013, but they have had little tangible success. In fact, recent studies have found that status posts without a hashtag fare better than those with them: Posts with hashtags receive an average 0.03 percent lower engagement rate.

It is a similar situation on LinkedIn; hashtags usually put people off. However, they have been a roaring success on Instagram, where posts with 11 or more hashtags have the greatest levels of success.

No matter what social media platform, consistency is key in your audience knowing what to look for, and brevity really is a virtue. Long hashtags simply take up too many characters to be successful.

There is no exact science in developing and promoting a successful hashtag for brands. The best strategy is to experiment: know your audience and what they like, find what works and what doesn’t, and then replicate.

Tom Spencer is a PR pro and creator of the blog and Twitter account This is PRable. A version of this article was originally published here.


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