You are likely familiar with what hashtags look like (e.g. #Meltwater), but like most people could use a few tips on how to make them more effective for your PR efforts. Hashtags are fantastic for brands who want to expand their reach or solidify their community around an idea or event. Like everything else on social media, however, they require a more nuanced approach than you might expect from your microcontent. Let’s break down some of the key benefits hashtags bring to your online PR efforts:
Hashtags got their start on Twitter as a way to track conversational threads, and conversation tracking remains a popular use case for them. It’s not uncommon to see people and brands create a quick hashtag when they start a topic, in hopes that it will catch on and become the anchor for that discussion. This has become so commonplace that on most social platforms where hashtags are active, they are also searchable.
An example of a brand creating a conversational hashtag that has become ubiquitous is Nike’s #JustDoIt. The hashtag which is sprinkled liberally throughout Twitter and Instagram, sometimes only tangentially references the original brand source.
Aligning with a movement is a vital part of the strategy we discussed in our post on Transparency vs TMI. Now that customers want to follow brands who share their values, brands who speak up about the positive causes they support get excellent traction online. As with trend jacking, mentioned below, it’s wise for the PR pro to proceed with caution here. Do your homework and make sure the cause is one that aligns with your values and your customers’ values before jumping in.
Hashtags are excellent for expanding a brand’s reach and impact. There are several ways you can do this, whether it’s watching for and jumping into conversations about an existing brand slogan, like Nike has in our example above, using a hashtag to thread your visual brand story together on Pinterest, Instagram, or Tumblr, or starting a monthly Twitter chat about your subject matter area of expertise. As your short, easy to remember, consistent hashtag gains traction, you build a repository of brand engagement that lives on to keep expanding awareness and reach over time.
We’ve all seen the ubiquitous event hashtags out there: #SXSW (South by SouthWest), #Grammys, #NBCTheVoice, and more. This is one of the easiest (and safest) ways for a brand to use hashtags to either promote an event they run and encourage engagement by participants or to promote their attendance or participation at an important event. As with any of these hashtags techniques we’ve mentioned, you can create a Twitter Moment or a Storify to turn a collection of posts on a hashtag into a story, but this method of storytelling (embeddable on your blog!) works very well with events in particular. Above all else, if you make an event hashtag, keep it short! Character count limits can be an issue for users.
Twitter, especially, has become a defacto customer support channel. Your customers are likely using this channel for customer feedback and support already–even if you are not! If you don’t have the bandwidth to create a separate account for support to maintain, you can easily create a support hashtag and use a monitoring service to track it (listen) and respond (engage). Remember: it’s always best to limit yourself to two public replies to a customer’s issue, then try to move them to direct message or email (politely).
Like anything else online, there are some sticky challenges with using hashtags a certain way. For example, “trend jacking” (inserting your brand into a trending hashtag associated with a developing news story, such as @WValderrama did for Art Basel) is an effective tactic that can easily become a double-edged sword. We’d recommend only seasoned PR pros try this, as it’s easy for a brand to come across as insensitive or gauche using this technique. The backlash for inappropriate trend jacking can be swift and vast, so use with caution and do your homework on the hashtag’s purpose and origin first.
Last, but not least, it’s important to know two things: where hashtags “work” (are clickable and useful) and how many to use per post per platform. Not all platforms encourage their use, and some platform users think “too many” is equivalent to spam. First, hashtags are best to use on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube, and Tumblr (they have yet to catch on in Facebook). As to the second, it depends on the platform. For Twitter more than two hashtags looks junky to the average user, for Instagram, however, you can use as many as you like, as long as they appear after the content. We hope these tips give you the direction you need to master the use of hashtags quickly and effectively. And remember, using a media intelligence platform to gain insight into hashtag trends as you go will allow you to see the impact using them is having on your brand.
As PR folks, our goal should be to present useful information that allows people to engage effortlessly, that’s why hashtags can be another tool in our communication toolbox. For more on how to unlock the potential for modern PR, download our ebook.