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The overenthusiastic use of hashtags is one of the most annoying aspects of Twitter, particularly when the hashtag in question is overused or just doesn’t make any sense (e.g. #justsayin).

But they are also a vital part of the mechanics of Twitter, so marketers need to be able to come up with a good hashtag if they want their social campaigns to have any impact.

The use of hashtags is something we've previously looked at in posts rounding up 2012's biggest social media fails and looking at Twitter's relationship with TV. You can also find out more in our Twitter for Business Best Practice Guide.

And to help marketers avoid breaking some of the cardinal sins of hashtagging etiquette, RadiumOne’s European MD Rupert Staines has put together a handy list of dos and don’ts.

So here’s what you need to know...

1. Figure out what you want to use a hashtag for

The primary reason for including a hashtag in a tweet is to flag up a particular issue or theme that other people can then associate themselves with by using the same hashtag.

A good example is Adidas’ use of the hashtag #takethestage during the Olympics, which then enabled other users to tweet their views about the Olympics and the athletes featured in Adidas’ marketing campaign.

This automatic indexing makes search, the second use of hashtags, possible, meaning users can find out information linked to their interest on a social rather than search optimised basis.

2. #Don’t #overdo #the #hashtagging

As mentioned, hashtags are designed to index content based around a similar theme to make it easier to search.

Therefore, it’s annoying for other users (and looks very amateurish) when someone incessantly hashtags every word in their tweets as it means they’re spamming several different conversations.

A good parody account that makes fun of this problem is @Chino_Wanker.

So, instead of jumping on three hashtags to make sure your content is seen, just pick the most relevant possible hashtag and use that.

Stick to these basic rules: one is the best, two is acceptable, three is pushing it and more than that and you’re just spamming.

3. #Makesureyourhashtagisshortandconcise

Twitter is based around short form content – or 140 characters, to be precise – so using a long hashtag simply means that other users have less space to actually contribute their own views.

Long hashtags are also tricky to read and easy to misspell, meaning the content won’t be associated with its intended conversation.

Finding short, unique hashtags is becoming more difficult as the platform becomes more popular, but it’s better to come up with something brief and creative than something long and precise.

4. Don’t change the hashtag halfway through a campaign

Once you’ve selected your hashtag, stick to it. 

A change of heart halfway through a campaign will result in split conversations or will force people to use two separate hashtags, which again limits their ability to contribute to the conversation.

That said, Adidas’ Olympic campaign made good use of two hashtags - #takethestage during the Games and #stagetaken after the athletes has achieved success.

5. Promote your hashtag

In order to be effective hashtags have to be seen, so stick yours on all your social media websites, on your print marketing materials, at the bottom of your emails, and so on. 

However, there does need to be a reason behind the use, so make sure to include a call-to-action asking consumers to “join the discussion” or “voice their views”.

6. Jump on other hashtags

Popularising hashtags is extremely difficult, so to give yourself a better chance of gaining exposure it’s worth searching Twitter to identify words that are already being used in conversation about your particular issue or topic.

However you also need to be careful about elbowing your way into the middle of an existing conversation, as nobody likes a gatecrasher and it’s likely to annoy the people you’re trying to engage with.

[But] there are even opportunities to change the use of a hashtag altogether, a great example being the charity Water Is Life turning #firstworldproblems on its head. 

7. Integrate your hashtags into sentences

By integrating your hashtag into a sentence the hashtag is contextualised and the content looks better. It also means you save space and can therefore write more. 

8. Remember your hashtags are accessible to everyone

The great thing about Twitter is that the content is free and available to everyone, however that also means that hashtags are open to being hijacked or manipulated.

This is particularly true of individual words that can be easily be used out of context in a sentence.

Staines suggests that best practice would be to come up with an acronym and end it with a number (if relevant) to ensure it isn’t internet trolled. 

However I would suggest that brands just need to be aware that there is always the potential that Twitter campaigns will backfire spectacularly, regardless of the hashtag.

An excellent example of this is the wave of abuse that McDonald’s received off the back of its #McDStories campaign.

9. Look beyond the obvious

The use of hashtags is now second nature for most marketers, but it’s important to look beyond the conventional methods and try to find ways of continuing the engagement with consumers.

For example, track who uses the hashtag then use this as a database for consumers who might be receptive to future brand messages or could be targeted as a potential brand advocates. 

David Moth

Published 21 January, 2013 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

1674 more posts from this author

Comments (7)

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Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

#Great #post #thanks.

over 3 years ago

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Jennie Wood

Good reminders and pointers. Would also stress the need to double check your choice of hashtag(s) first, for two additional reasons:

- many are overused and your campaign could end up lost in the crowd. Of course, there could be a happy flipside, and your tweets gaining greater attention.

- double entendres. There's an outside chance your posts and campaign could attract unwelcome attention and associations. A 10-second Twitter search will soon reveal any lurking potential for this.

over 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Jennie Wood

Good reminders and pointers. Would also stress the need to double check your choice of hashtag(s) first, for two additional reasons:

- many are overused and your campaign could end up lost in the crowd. Of course, there could be a happy flipside, and your tweets gaining greater attention.

- double entendres. There's an outside chance your posts and campaign could attract unwelcome attention and associations. A 10-second Twitter search will soon reveal any lurking potential for this.

over 3 years ago

Michelle Goodall

Michelle Goodall, Online PR/Social Media Consultant at EconsultancySmall Business Multi-user

Good tips David . Also:

Check the hashtag doesn't exist already and check again. It can embarrassing when you 'clashtag' and your event/product/campaign hashtag is being used by year old One Direction fans.

Make sure your hashtags make sense...that you haven't unwittingly written a rude word by running two words together.

I'd actually disagree in part with point 4 and not changing hashtag IF something awful happens that forces you to change your hashtag out of decency and good taste., e.g. a natural disaster, war or high profile death/murder etc.

over 3 years ago

Harry Gardiner

Harry Gardiner, Content Marketing Executive at Koozai

There are some really great tips here that all business's should keep in mind, especially points two and three about keeping hashtags short and sweet and not overdoing it.
Another great example of hashtags being taken out of context like McDonalds' #McDStories is Waitrose's #Waitrosereasons campaign.
It was of course hijacked and used to highlight the sense of snobbery associated with the shopping chain.
They ended up taking this in great stride though, leading many to question whether the whole campaign was self-realising.

#greatpost

over 3 years ago

Albie Attias

Albie Attias, Ecommerce Director at King of Servers Ltd

If you're a Delicious user, you can integrate your Delicious account with Twitter so that your tweets are imported and any hashtags they contain are converted to tags. Handy if you tweet about work/topics of interest.

over 3 years ago

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Dallas Willcox

Very good advice. Also take care when tweets are automatically transferred to other systems. I post on @EssexNetworking, but I am conscious that my tweets also appear on LinkedIn, where the hashtags won't make sense.

over 3 years ago

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