Hashtag Etiquette on Twitter

Hashtags are the keywords of Twitter. They are so effective that other social platforms and digital spaces are implementing them. That being said, there is an absolutely wrong way to use hashtags for a business’ reputation and perception online. The same way Google has SEO guidelines and algorithms to prevent keyword stuffing, your business needs to do a self-check on how you are using hashtags on social.

Via Flickr by  James Mitchell

Via Flickr by James Mitchell

Businesses want their Tweets to be seen, so they often make the mistake of stuffing their posts with as many hashtags (or keywords) as possible. An example:

Buy our product! #product #anothernameforproduct #industry #relatedindustry #relatedindustry #relatedindustry #companyname

Yes, hashtags can be helpful in getting your content exposure. Too many hashtags turns users off. When you hashtag stuff, you become:

  • a spam email
  • a flyer shoved in their fact at an event
  • a blind telemarketing call,
  • a pop-up ad

Fix It Tip: Stick to 1-3 hashtags at most for each Tweet.

Via Flickr by mikecogh

Via Flickr by mikecogh

Alright, you‘ve got it, 1-3 hashtags! You start sending out Tweets that look like this:

Buy our product! #product #industry #companyname

But you don’t see any improvement in engagement or reach. One reason for a lack of engagement in the above example is the hashtag placement. Social is about having a conversation, and sticking hashtags at the end still gives off a distinct advertising feel.

Fix It Tip: Place hashtags naturally into the conversation, such as:

Buy our #product – it improves #industry. #companyname

As you may have noticed in that example, it is okay to put a hashtag at the end of a Tweet as a statement point. But the majority of hashtags should be placed naturally in the Tweet.

Via Flickr by mikecogh

Via Flickr by mikecogh

Let’s keep improving the Tweet! Even with the fix it tip, the Tweet is still obviously advertising because of its wording. Here is a real life of example of what you are doing when you directly ask people to buy stuff on social. Two friends are talking in a coffee shop and you interrupt them to show off your superamazingawesomelifechanging product. The friends will be annoyed and will never buy from you. Multiply that example by millions and that is what you are doing on social when you directly advertise.

Fix It Tip: Inject some empathy into that Tweet! Instead of using hashtags as keywords to gain customers, think of them as tools to help the customer find the product they need to make their life easier. An example:

This #industrytask makes your life difficult. Try #product to get back to easy work and easier living. #companyname

You may have noticed the trending hashtags on Twitter. You know they are popular and want to use them to get exposure. DiGiorno Pizza thought the same with their Tweet.

digiorno-pizza

Here is the problem – the #WhyIStayed campaign was about domestic violence and having real women explain why they stayed in abusive relationships.

pizzafail

Fix It Tip: Always. Research. Hashtags. This is a good example of why you need to. The trending hashtags are a conversation. You can’t jump in without knowing what it’s about. Another real life example – let’s say you are at a party and you overhear someone talking about peanuts. Excited, you jump into their conversation, raving about this awesome peanut-centric recipe you have, only to find out they were talking about how one person’s cousin just died from a peanut allergy. Not only is that immensely awkward, but you became “that guy.” Don’t do it on social! DiGiorno Pizza feels so awkward about their fail that they haven’t been on Twitter since (which is a whole other social media mistake, but that is for a different post entirely).

It is a good idea to research any hashtag you want to use. Find out:

  • what it actually means
  • who is using it
  • how are they using it
  • how often it is being used
Via Flickr by cogdogblog

Via Flickr by cogdogblog

Lastly, I will tackle the Shakespearean question: To use or not to use branded hashtags? A simple branded hashtag you put at the end of every Tweet (ie: #companyname) is a good idea. You can even have branded hashtags for campaigns or special things your brand does that sets you apart from the competition. Just don’t use all of them all the time.

Bonus Hashtag Tips: Since hashtags are on multiple platforms, you may be wondering, “How in the world do I use them everywhere else?” Here is a quick cheat sheet:

Via Flickr by clasesdeperismo

Via Flickr by clasesdeperismo

  • Facebook: I don’t believe you should use them at all, but that is a personal choice. If you want to use hashtags on Facebook, I would stick to one at the end of a post.
  • Instagram: More hashtags are okay on Instagram. Try 3-5 in a post and make them more personal and less trendy. Hashtags are a way of conversing on Instagram rather than to find images.
  • Pinterest: Preferably, hover around 2-4 per post. Often Pinterest users don’t care about hashtag content in a post, they just want the information on the Pin. If you want to use more you can, but I stand by the fact that keyword stuffing on any platform makes your brand look scammy and unprofessional.
  • Tumblr: Use as many hashtags as you want since they are nondescript. However, your brand will win the favor of the difficult Tumblr audience if you research the crap out of popular Tumblr hashtags to understand the platform’s unique conversation.
  • Google+: Since not everyone uses Google+ for audience expansion, there is not much etiquette on hashtags (besides keyword stuffing). Stick to 2-4 hashtags, either throughout the post or at the end.
  • LinkedIn: No hashtags on LinkedIn. Come on, people, LinkedIn is a classy professional place. Using hashtags is the equivalent of wearing sweatpants to a merger meeting.
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