If you're going to take the plunge and use Twitter to promote your small business,
or if you've already started on the network, ensure learning hashtag etiquette is high on your to-do list.
Back in the spring of 2007, when Twitter was an infant among social networks, the hashtag was introduced as a way to categorize user-created content. There was an initial negative reaction from early adopters of the platform who thought the tag looked awkward and ugly. The tags didn't catch on until October 2007 when they became a convenient way to share emergency-related information about the San Diego fires.
Today, hashtags are a powerful way to participate in conversations and search for information. Just make sure you're not guilty of any of the following:
1. The hashtag addiction
Even the founder of hashtags, Chris Messina, thinks they're overused. Messina is generally acknowledged as the guy who "brought hashtags out of the geekosphere."
Why should we care? Well, for starters, too many hashtags are annoying and difficult to read:
Will Coley, a social media blogger, expresses concern that tweets with too many hashtags aren't just annoying, they're confusing and scary: "I am concerned that overusing hashtags keeps Twitter in the geekosphere and scares off people who aren't yet using this great tool."
Mashable recommends two tags or fewer per tweet whenever possible.
2. Irrelevant usage
Do you tag every tweet with #SMM (social media marketing), even if you're just sharing a picture of your lunch? Well, cut it out. There are few things more irritating to someone trying to participate in dialogue than unrelated, self-promotional hashtags.
3. The longest hashtag ever
There's now a law about how long your hashtags should be. The maximum length of a tweet is 140 characters, and you could theoretically use all 139 to create a hashtag.
But for the love of Twitter, please don't.
Three to four words is optimal for readability, and be sure to capitalize the first letter of each word. This is known as "camel case."
4. Self-promotional hashtags
If you already said something, you don't need to say it again. That includes using a hashtag for social media in the body of your tweet, and again at the end.
Tagging every tweet with your self-made hashtag can come across as amateurish. If your company name is clearly related to your username and you briefly explain your company in your bio, you don't need to tag the content with your company name again.
Jumping into a preexisting conversation about a trending hashtag to promote your product or services is going to come across as tacky. Unless you completely understand the trending topic or can add something of value to the dialogue, stay out of it.
6. Hashtag sampling
You've seen it before. Misusing a trending hashtag can damage a personal or company brand.
Rewind to early July of 2011. A grand jury deemed there was insufficient evidence that Casey Anthony murdered her two-year-old daughter, and many Twitter users expressed their opinions with the #NotGuilty hashtag.
Whether the company was attempting humor or was just in the dark, Entenmann's issued the following tasteless tweet in response to the trending topic:
Outroar immediately erupted, and the company's followers were shocked. The brand quickly issued an apology:
Though the apology was right-on, the damage was done. People perceived the brand as insensitive, and many included it among the worst PR mistakes since the invention of the hashtag. Of course, someone even initiated an "Entenmann's PR" parody Twitter account.
What are your hashtag pet peeves?
Jasmine Henry is content manager at Inbound Marketing Agents. A version of this article originally appeared on Inbound Marketing Blog.