What are # (Hashtags) and How to Use them on Social Media
Once upon a time, # was but a simple pound sign or hash. But then came Twitter and turned this mundane sign into an online sensation. Today, whether you are on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube or Facebook, you simply cannot escape the all-encompassing presence of the #hashtag.
To the social media novice, hashtags might seem confusing, annoying and pointless at first glance. But if you understand their purpose and learn how to use them, hashtags are a powerful tool to help you engage your target audience and increase your brand awareness.
So What is a # Hashtag?
A hashtag is a keyword or phrase preceded by the hash symbol (#), that people include in their social media posts. Essentially, it makes the content of your post accessible to all people with similar interests, even if they’re not your followers or fans. For instance, let’s say you’re an Apple fan and that you’re playing with the idea of buying an iPhone 5. A simple “#iPhone5” search on any social network will open a dedicated news feed with all iPhone 5 latest updates, deals, rumours and hacks. The results you see on this feed are the aggregated posts of any users who used “#iPhone5” in their posts. But usually, users don’t actively search for hashtags, but simply spot them. Hashtags appear as clickable links on posts they see and a mouse click will display a real-time live feed of every other post tagged with the same hashtag.
How Can Using #Hashtags Help you Promote your Business?
Assuming your social media profile is public, using hashtags make your posts visible to basically anyone who shares your interest. No longer are your posts limited to just your followers; your content is now accessible to all other users interested in similar topics. Choosing the right hashtag can greatly broaden the reach of your social media posts to thousands of potential followers, fans or customers.
Creating an Effective Hashtag
To create a hashtag, all you need to do is include a # and a relevant keyword or phrase. You can insert hashtags anywhere in your posts: front, middle or end. Some people like to weave their hashtags into the middle of posts, while others prefer inserting them at the end. It does not really matter, as long as your hashtags remain relevant. Hashtags are powerful when used wisely. Nothing turns people off more than a cluttered post with excessive hashtags or overly lengthy hashtags, e.g. #thisLongHashtagIsSoPointless. As a general rule of thumb, keep your hashtags to a maximum of two or three when tweeting on Twitter. For Instagram, the ideal number of hashtags is five. Always remember to use clear, unique and relevant hashtags.
Three Powerful Hashtags to Use on Social Media
Content Hashtags: If you are totally new to hashtags, first consider using hashtags that directly relate to your brand, product or service. Content hashtags will greatly expose your brand to potential customers on those social media platforms who weren’t previously familiar with your brand. In the Tweet below, New York restaurant Madison Bistro skilfully includes hashtags about its products (#coffee, #breakfast) and location (#nyc), coupled with a clickable hyperlink that directs users to the restaurant menu on its Facebook page. Through this simple Tweet, the company increases its visibility among relevant Twitter users and in the process might have attracted some potential coffee-loving customers in New York City.
Trending Hashtags: Another great way to boost your brand’s visibility is using existing hashtags that have grown popular among millions of users, also known as ‘trending’ hashtags. Before you hashtag trending topics, remember to first ask yourself whether your social media posts are adding value to the existing conversation. If your post does not add value, it is highly likely to be ignored and lost in the plethora of posts. If however your post is informative, funny or viral, it would get re-shared by fellow users and this greatly enlarges awareness of your brand.
As Halloween approaches, there are many brands and companies who have hopped on the #Halloween bandwagon. Here are some good examples:
Brand-Specific Hashtags: Sometimes, the problem with using generic or popular hashtags is that your posts might be lost in the noise of hundreds of posts using the same hashtags. Hence, it is a good idea to create your own dedicated brand-specific hashtags. These can be used for general branding, promotions, events, contests or other marketing campaigns. For example, as part of its 100th anniversary, Oreo created a special hashtag #oreomoment and got users to share about their favorite memory of their product. The hashtag got so popular that it elicited thousands of responses from users. Soon, what was originally a brand-specific hashtag became a trending hashtag as more people (even companies) used the #oreomoment hashtag.
Effective Brand Specific Hashtags
The key to creating an effective brand-specific hashtag is to ensure that there is no one else using the same hashtag. Make sure it is unique and memorable. For general branding, use a short motto or tagline (e.g. Kit Kat uses #haveabreak). When creating marketing campaign-specific hashtags, make sure to give users a compelling incentive to use them. For example, you could get users to post with a campaign-specific hashtag to stand a chance to get discounts or win prizes. In return, your brand stands to benefit from major viral marketing publicity.
So what are you waiting for, start harnessing the power of hashtags and broaden your reach to millions of potential followers or customers now!
Knowledge is key to running a successful business, knowledge about your customers, your competitors, your own operation and the wider business environment. A SWOT analysis will help you gather the information you need to make a full and thorough assessment of your business and your market.
A SWOT analysis is a simple but powerful tool for identifying the strengths and weaknesses of your operation and the opportunities and threats you face in your market. It will give you a clear picture of how well your business is running and the wider marketing and sales environment you are operating in.
Business analysis - your strengths and weaknesses
Identifying your companies strengths and weaknesses should be straightforward, particularly if you talk to a range of people when putting your SWOT analysis together. If you have employees, you'll find they have a good idea of what works and what doesn't. Customers, suppliers and other business partners can also give you feedback on your performance.
Work through a list of the different elements of your operation. For example, finance, staffing, operations and marketing are key areas you can examine.
Your SWOT analysis will be more useful if you look at your strengths and weaknesses in terms of what you are trying to achieve and if you compare yourself with your key competitors. Where do you have a competitive edge - or a problem?
Market analysis - opportunities and threats
You should also talk to employees, customers, suppliers and other business partners about the main opportunities and threats facing your business.
Ask them about all the people and organisations that affect your business and how they are changing. Competitors, customers, suppliers and distributors will all have an impact on how successfully you trade.
You should then assess the broader business environment and how it is changing using a PEST analysis:
A good PEST analysis can provide you with a strong foundation for an effective marketing strategy.
Carrying out and using a SWOT analysis
A brainstorm with employees may well be the best starting point for your SWOT analysis. You'll have to be open-minded and willing to accept some criticism of your business, but remember, the idea is to get a realistic view. Likewise, ask your customers for their honest feedback about your products and service standards.
If you want to take a more formal approach to SWOT analysis, you could pay for professional help or get involved in a benchmarking study. Whichever approach you choose, however, your assessment must lead to an action plan. This should focus on how you exploit opportunities that play to your strengths and how you address weaknesses in your business in order to deal with threats that face you.
Your marketing strategy should also aim to protect your business against threats. Building strong relationships with customers and making sure that your products and customer service stand out can be key elements of your defence against the competition.
A marketing plan sets out how you are going to put your marketing strategy into practice. The marketing plan ensures that everyone in the business knows what you are trying to do and what they need to do to make it happen.
Include objectives, budgets and deadlines in your marketing plan
An effective marketing plan must set clear objectives that will help you towards your longer-term strategic goals. Where your marketing strategy includes targeting a particular customer segment, for example, your marketing plan should have specific, measurable objectives for helping you achieve this goal, such as increasing sales by a target percentage. Setting deadlines and agreeing marketing budgets to work with helps you focus on your priorities and commit to achieving them.
You should make sales forecasts and targets a key part of your marketing plan and feed them into your overall business plan. But other performance measures could be just as important. For example, you might set targets for numbers of enquiries, numbers of new customers, average transaction value, and so on. Or you might simply wish to maintain positive cash flow.
You can choose targets like these to reflect your strategic goals. They can also help you identify where your marketing is - and isn't - working; for example, if enquiry levels meet targets but sales do not.
Planning your marketing
Your day-to-day business marketing activities are likely to be focused on communicating with existing and potential customers. Your marketing plan should set out when and how you will do this.
Start building a schedule by identifying key times of the year - for example, when business customers plan the next year's budget or seasonal purchasing peaks (such as Christmas). Time your marketing campaigns to fit with these dates and look for other opportunities, such as trade exhibitions, that you can take advantage of.
If there are significant gaps in your marketing schedule, fill them out with cost-effective activities to help maintain customer awareness. You might send out a newsletter, for example.
If you rely heavily on a fairly small number of important customers, consider developing individual account management plans for them. Rather than mailshots and other forms of general marketing communications, key accounts merit regular phone calls, meetings, business entertainment, and so on.
As well as marketing communications, your marketing plan should span the full mix of marketing activities. Developing new products and building your distribution network might be important parts of your strategy, for example. You will also need to plan carefully for any price increases or tactical moves such as an end-of-season sale.
You might also want to strengthen your marketing capabilities. Note in your marketing plan whether you intend to give staff sales training or introduce new customer relationship management (CRM) technology. Maybe you need to introduce more efficient systems or measure customer satisfaction. Including activities like these in your marketing plan helps ensure that they are identified as priorities and that you dedicate time and money to them.
Marketing Strategy is the fundamental goal of increasing sales and achieving a sustainable competitive advantage. A marketing strategy will help you identify your best customers, understand their needs and implement the most effective marketing methods.
Every time you speak to someone about your business you are involved in marketing. Any conversation about your firm is an opportunity to promote your business and increase sales.
A marketing strategy will help you focus. It will identify the different ways you can talk to your customers, and concentrate on the ones that will create most sales. It tells you what to say, how to say it and who to say it to in order to make more sales. Because timing is critical, it will tell you when to say it, too.
Marketing strategy: objectives
Your marketing objectives will focus on how you increase sales by getting and keeping customers.
To explain how to do this, experts talk about how best to package your products and services, how much to charge for them and how to take them to market.
A marketing strategy will help you tailor your messages and put the right mix of marketing approaches in place so that you bring your sales and marketing activities together effectively in an effective marketing plan.
Marketing strategy: knowing your customers
A successful marketing strategy depends on understanding your customers, what they need and how you can persuade them to buy from you.
There's no substitute for knowledge. Experience and regular two-way communication will tell you a lot about your customers. But targeted market research will build a more detailed picture of customer segments with similar needs. It will help you understand how to target these people so you're not wasting time on people who aren't interested in your offer.
But you'll also need to understand how your market works - where do your customers find out about your offer, for example? Your strategy should even tell you how you measure up against the competition and what new trends to expect in your market.
Marketing strategy: making a plan
A marketing plan explains how to put your strategy into action. It will set marketing budgets and deadlines, but it will also tell you how you're going to talk to your target customers - whether that's through advertising, networking, going to trade shows, direct marketing, and so on.
Crucially, it will tell you when to talk to your customers. Timing your activities to fit their buying cycles will save money and maximise sales.
Finally, your marketing plan should look to the future: it should outline how you follow up sales and what you're doing to develop your offer.
As with any plan, progress should be regularly measured and reviewed to see what's working and what isn't, so you can set new targets as your market changes.
Lisa Hunter is an experienced Marketing, Events and Project Manager. She has over 10 years’ experience working in the IT and marketing industry, delivering strategic marketing support and managing creative projects for a wide-range of clients. In this blog she shares her knowledge and experiences…we hope you enjoy it.