Why Most People Fail at Hashtags and How To Fix It

By Brian Murray

I am a self-proclaimed Twitter evangelist. I've used Facebook since 2004, but my true love is Twitter. I love the short, concise, and highly mobile service more than any other platform. The limitation to 140 characters per post is what makes it beautiful. This limitation has caused the formation of a new language, and certain "features" have been created by the user to make the platform easier to use. One of Twitter's most important features, which has now taken on a life of its own, is the #hashtag.  The #hashtag has permeated our lives: so much so that I've seen it in text messages, emails, and on Facebook. Although I've seen hashtags everywhere, I've found that many people just don't understand how to use them.

Definition of #Hashtag

A #hashtag is meant to label a tweet so it is easily searchable. The hashtag is meant to facilitate and encourage conversation. There are also a variety of platforms that support hashtags. In fact, hashtags have grown in popularity as Twitter has grown over the years.

Best Practices for Safe #Hashtagging

Hashtags dominate the Twittersphere and have even made their way onto Google+. They can encourage people to discuss a subject, but they can also be detrimental to your cause. If you're not using your hashtags correctly, they can grow out of nowhere and sometimes appear to be nonsensical. So here are some quick tips to make sure that you're using your hashtags properly:

1) Short hashtags work best. #ILoveYourPizzaAndWantToEatItAllTheTime is not something that should be used. Half of you probably couldn't read- or didn't bother reading- that, because it isn't friendly to the eye. People do not like symbols; they like words.  So use hashtags sparingly.

2) Make them relevant. When we started #LikeableChat 40 weeks ago, we thought about creating a hashtag that would catch the eye, give people something to think about, and brand our chat. What is #LikeableChat? We talk about the core values of @LikeableMedia and how they relate to specific topics.

3) Don't SPAM. With the advent of Twitter Trends and the proliferation of hashtags, people have started to use them to spam while hocking their wares. Don't do this. Always try to provide value by finding creative ways to relate existing hashtags to your brand.

4) Promote them. If you represent a physical location, a conference, or a service, then you should prominently place your hashtags- make them eye-catching! If it is a website, put it above the fold. If you have a cash register, put it there, or put it up on your door. Then, when you see someone use it, engage! The best example of this I have ever seen comes from the @NewYorkRedBulls and their promotion of #Stampede in stadium, as well as on all of their other assets.

5) Think of the broad audience. Don't make up a hashtag that is highly personalized and expect people to get it. I've seen hashtags used by people to create inside jokes, which is fine. Just don't expect to get it trending unless it is relevant to a huge set of users. Always consider your audience in everything that you do. When creating content, figure out what they want or need and give it to them.

6) Use legible formatting. Use capital letters to make them readable. #dontdothis #DoThis

Bonus:

Twitter search is amazing and allows people to find others to engage with. By simply using the "#" you immediately make the hashtag clickable and it will drive to the Twitter search page with that as a result. If this isn't enough for you, use TweetChat to monitor and engage in real time.

Updated: For more information on this subject see the previous blog from Tim Bosch. He raises the really great point of not using #too #many #hashtags #in #one #Tweet.

 

Do you have any tips for hashtag use? Have you ever #seenareallylonghashtagthathurtyoureyes?