By Tessa Wegert published December 8, 2013

Use Hashtags More Effectively in Your Social Media Content: 4 Tactics

burts bees hashtagsIf the hashtag possessed the ability to feel, it would surely have an identity crisis. It’s been mistaken for a number sign and a pound sign. It also bears an uncanny resemblance to the sharp sign in music, as well as a Chinese character that describes an ancient system of distributing land.

Yes, life for this humble metadata tag would be mighty confusing. As it happens, hashtags can be confusing for content marketers, too. We know we need to use them, but what’s the best approach? Facebook’s recent decision to support hashtags (users were already able to include them in status updates, but they weren’t clickable) has upped their cache in social media content. As an integral part of social and content marketing platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Google+, hashtags represent an important means of digital marketing and communication.

Here are some ways in which to leverage hashtags for more successful social media content campaigns:

1. Use them to categorize your brand’s messages

Hashtags originated as a way to define and assemble topics of conversation online so that users could track down posts related to a group or event they were interested in. They’re still ideal for classifying content, whether posts apply to an upcoming conference your business is hosting or to the products offered by a school supplies manufacturer. When you upload social media content, use hashtags to further describe its purpose and the value it offers to its audience. For example, if your content relates to a topic like #kids, #fallfashion, #artprojects, or a #holidaysale, say so by including a hashtag. 

Delineating posts in this manner is particularly vital to promoting your brand content. You likely already include hashtags related to your products and brand, but have you considered using them to provide additional information about each piece of content?

For example, Dairy Queen labels its Tumblr page posts with tags like #DairyQueen and #LoveMyDQ, but it also uses hashtags like #cake, #chocolate, and #pumpkinpie. By tagging menu item flavors, DQ better defines its branded photos, videos, and animated GIFs, making it easier for social media content consumers to find them.

dairy queen tumblr pageIn addition, beauty brand TRESemmé takes a similar approach by supplementing its branded hashtags on Tumblr with tags like #cute, #beauty, #hairstyle, and #brunette. This helps users to better understand the nature of its visual content efforts, as well as what to expect from future posts.

2. Use them to extend the reach of your posts

Hashtags are useful for defining content, but they can also extend the reach of your brand on the whole. Think of them as search marketing keywords, but with one differentiating feature: Unlike the keywords in your paid search campaign — most of which are built around highly specific, less common “long-tail” terms — most of the hashtags you use should already be popular. By employing tags that are frequently searched you’ll greatly increase the odds that your content will be displayed and get shared. 

Burt’s Bees drew attention to its recent #6SecondClassics branded videos by tweeting the clips along with hashtags specific to the campaign. But the brand also made sure to include a more popular tag — #classic — to broaden its reach.

burts bees 6-second classics

Ford Fiesta did the same on Instagram, supplementing the #FiestaMovement tag it uses on cross-country photos of the Ford Fiesta with more popular options like #travel, #florida, and #malibu.

ford fiesta-instagram

You can gauge the popularity of trending hashtags at Hashtags.org or by searching for potential candidates on Twitter itself. You’ll also find a list of up-to-the-minute trending tags on Tumblr.

3. Use them to start a topic trend

While most of the hashtags you include in your posts will already exist and serve the utilitarian purpose of getting your content found, hashtags can also afford an opportunity to showcase your brand’s creativity.

One strategy is for brands to appropriate existing hashtags and make them their own. Ben & Jerry’s cleverly adopted several of Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” hashtags in an effort to capitalize on the attention generated by the week-long TV programming event. Existing tags like #megalodon, #SharkAfterDark, and #SharkWeek — a title that has long been part of the consumer lexicon — were used to attract attention to Ben & Jerry’s shark-themed Twitter posts. One of its branded photos featured a bucket of Phish Food ice cream next to a fishing pole. Another showed a pint marred by a jagged bite mark.

ben and jerrys sharkweek tweets

If you prefer, your brand can go the conceptual route, inventing hashtags with the hope that they’ll take off. This has worked for brands like MTV, which coined the hashtag #FollowMeMTV as a twist on “Follow Friday” (#FF) — a Twitter custom in which users recommend other users to follow on the site. It has also been successful for HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which whips fans into a frenzy with unique tags like #SunandStars. The short-lived term of endearment used by two characters in the show seems obscure, but die-hard viewers understand its meaning, and these are the consumers you can most rely on to advocate and share content from your brand online.

game of thrones-sunandstars

4. Above all, use them wisely, and sparingly 

This may sound counterintuitive, but as useful as incorporating hashtags can be, it’s also possible to overdo it. Too many of them in a single post and your message will read like spam, which could alienate social media content consumers, or cause them to tune you out. While theories about the optimal number of tags vary, you’re generally safe with one to three per post. Think of viewers of your content as readers: Ultimately, hashtags are a distraction that detracts from the message you’re trying to relay. Include them, by all means. But always do so in moderation.

Deciphering hashtags is simply a matter of knowing how and when to use them. Stay abreast of social site developments and hashtag trends to help your content thrive.

For more ideas on how to make your social media content stand out, read Joe Pulizzi’s latest book, “Epic Content Marketing: How to Tell a Different Story, Break through the Clutter, & Win More Customers by Marketing Less.”

Author: Tessa Wegert

Tessa Wegert is a freelance writer, content developer, and veteran marketing strategist specializing in digital media. She manages marketing and communications for Enlighten , one of the first full-service digital strategy and services agencies serving such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. Her articles have appeared in USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and ClickZ.com . You can follow her on Twitter at @tessawegert.

Other posts by Tessa Wegert

  • Kerry Finch

    Nice post full of very useful tips. Thanks Tessa.

    • Tessa Wegert

      So glad you found it helpful, Kerry!

  • http://www.fernandobiz.com/ FERNANDO

    Great tips for using it right Actually this was causing me some ColdFusion to see some people the just use hashtags and it looks like spam. Anyway thanks for the great tips.

  • bukada35

    My Uncle Grayson got silver Mercedes E-Class Diesel by working part-time from a macbook. view it ­j­o­b­s­6­4­.­c­o­m

  • http://www.it-sales-leads.com/ Barbara Mckinney

    Great tips, I agree with them all.If you’re using a hashtag, think about the people you are trying to reach and what keywords they will be searching for. Know your audience and connect with them using their language.

    • Tessa Wegert

      Thanks, Barbara!

  • treshea wade

    Excellent nuggets of info. I was familiar with the tactics, but especially appreciate the talking points to explain why I do what I do with hashtags. Especially loved the point about “extending the reach of your brand”. Thank you!

    • Tessa Wegert

      Thanks for reading!

  • Gabriele Woodall

    Brands need to understand that hashtags can easily turn into annoying visual
    obstacles that slow the reader down, chop up the message, and make reading it a chore. As a result, a sizeable chunk of your target audience will tune you out. According to the latest data, …Tweets with 1 – 2 hashtags have 21% more engagement than those with 3 or more: http://blog.bufferapp.com/10-new-twitter-stats.

    Translation: You’ll win more customers by marketing less!
    #EpicContentMarketingPlug #SignedCompCopy

  • Matthew “Kaboomis” Loomis

    Helpful article, Tessa. Thanks for sharing this info.

    I have been thinking about your point #3 in regards to hashtags. I’ve noticed that some take the “conceptual route” to hashtags frequently. It provides flair to post readers, but I wonder how successful these highly creative hashtags are to actually generating traffic to the link destination.

    If there’s been a study done, please let us know where to find it. I’d love to see some tangible numbers on the success of conceptual hashtags. Somebody will eventually, I’m sure. #weneedastudydoneonhashtags

    • Tessa Wegert

      Thanks, Matthew! I’d love to see such a study, too. I suspect it’s generally uncommon for conceptual hashtags to be as effective as established/popular ones, but they do add flavor to a post or campaign. In the case of #sunandstars, it got a lot of traction quickly and is still used long after being introduced. The right hashtag can generate as much interest as a post itself.