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Hashtag Etiquette

For the last decade, social media users have been hashtagging their way through a growing landscape of platforms and conversations. That’s right, the hashtag is officially 10 years old – in August of 2007, Chris Messina created the very first hashtag – a string of seven letters preceded by the pound sign symbol.

That first hashtag was #barcamp – and his tweet was actually asking his Twitter followers how they felt about using this nomenclature to define groups on Twitter. Funny enough, Twitter founder Evan Williams, didn’t think it would catch on… #SoWrong.

In 2017, social media is a lot of noise. Generally, the noise is something users have accepted as part of the experience and in large part, this acceptance, or ability to tune out the noise, is due to the use of hashtags. Originally created to bring users and their conversations together, the main function of a hashtag hasn’t changed much. Today, users across Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn [among others] add hashtags to their posts. The jury is still out on the effectiveness across the various social networks, as discussed here.

The “Rules” of Hashtag Use

To call these rules is a bit of an overstatement, mostly because the consensus can be a bit mixed on proper hashtag use; however, the following breakdown is a guideline wildly accepted by many social media marketing leaders.

The Basics

Why hashtag?

Hashtags are used to pull in conversations around a similar topic – like events, common interests, movements, campaigns, etc. For brands, hashtags are also an essential tool for organically building a social follower base – using the right hashtags, in the right way, can give your social content the lift it needs to reach more people.

Tag with intent.

Don’t use hashtags for the sake of using hashtags. If you’re trying to reach a specific group, avoid vague hashtags that have millions of hits. When you’re ready to begin using hashtags, research tags you’re interested in using before posting away – see how active they are, how they are being used, who is using them, etc. Make sure they are part of conversations that are relevant to your brand. If your brand or campaign is utilizing a proprietary hashtag, be sure to balance it with industry hashtags so your posts don’t go unseen.

Strive for readability. 

Social media users, even novices, have grown to accept the language of being social and as such, they are used to seeing hashtags. To create a better experience for your followers, and in some instances to conserve space, use your hashtags in-line with your copy – making it part of the post itself, versus an addendum.

Channel Specific

From here, the guidelines are a bit more fluid, however, this will help you better navigate your own social media strategy when it comes to hashtags.

Twitter

With an average of 6,000 tweets a second, hashtags are the only way to keep up! That being said, there are some basic guidelines. To avoid appearing spammy, stick to no more than three hashtags per post – though, if more are needed, be mindful of the context and prioritize the need.

Remember, Twitter only allows 140 characters, and if you add a URL to your tweet, you’re already down to 117 characters, so tweet wisely, and create tweets with in-line hashtags as often as you can. This in-line method can be used on any of the channels that currently support hashtags. This doesn’t work in every instance, but you should strive to start with this method. If a hashtag just doesn’t flow with the copy, it’s perfectly acceptable to add it to the end, preferably after the URL.

Example of properly using multiple tags: more than three, but they are all relevant and look orderly.
Example of poor hashtag use: #USA and #job are very vague, a better option might have been #PhysicalTherapy or #healthjobs.

Instagram

On Instagram, the visual leads the way [versus on Twitter, where the copy displays above the visual], and because of this change in experience, the hashtag strategy should be different, too.

As much as Twitter touts itself as a “micro-blog,” it’s a little too micro with the 140-character restraint. Alternatively, Instagram truly allows for blogging with every uploaded post. However, keep in mind that, after about 150 characters or so, your text body turns into ellipses that can be clicked to reveal the rest of the post – so use that space wisely as thumbs are moving quickly! For this very reason, it’s best to use your hashtags at the end of your Instagram post copy, though the in-line tagging method works, well, too.

There’s about a 2000-character limit for each Instagram post, so the opportunity to really test hashtags soars here. Use Instagram to explore what tags are resonating with your audience, and you may find you’re a bit more discoverable when you change up the hashtag mix. And, data has shown that Instagram posts with 11 or more hashtags receive higher engagement, so, #hashtagaway!

Facebook

Can you use hashtags on Facebook? Yes. Are hashtags useful on Facebook? The comments are still coming in… Facebook introduced hashtags in 2013 in correlation with its graph search tool, which eventually was a flop. Regardless, marketers and users alike carried over their hashtag use to Facebook.

Today, after quite a bit of testing and data-piling, trusted sources like Buffer and BuzzSumo have noted that out of over 30 million brand pages, posts with hashtags saw less engagement than those without hashtags. What’s really key here is, “engagement.” In order for your brand page to survive on Facebook, engagement on your posts is your lifeblood – without it, not even a page with thousands of dollars in advertising will get very far. Though Twitter and Instagram require audience engagement, hashtags on those platforms do more of the organic exposure work, truly aiding in discovery, whereas on Facebook, hashtag or not, without engagement, the doors to attract new fans are closed tight.

So, this doesn’t mean don’t use hashtags on Facebook. It means it takes trial and error, coupled with knowing how to read your post insights and A/B testing your posts. A good rule of thumb is if you’re going to use a hashtag, use one that is relevant and not too vague.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn has always been that middle child, stuck between being its own network and being too different. Hashtags on LinkedIn have come and gone several times over the past four years. One day they’d be there, bright, hyperlink-blue, and other days, they’d be awkwardly dangling among the feed.

As of today, hashtags are in on LinkedIn. In March, the professional networking site announced (again) that it is supporting hashtag search. As you’ve probably seen in your own feed, many people didn’t care whether hashtags were supported or not. As a social media marketer, even as the tags are now clickable, and “accepted,” on LinkedIn, they can still feel somewhat obtrusive to the experience. LinkedIn is natively a long-form social media site, and so, hashtags take away from that expected experience. However, personal preference aside, it seems using hashtags, delicately, does offer some result, like increasing visibility and discovering content.

There are still some bugs to LinkedIn’s hashtag functionality, like being able to see them as hyperlinks as page admins, among other things. Regardless, the hashtags are “new” again on LinkedIn, and as with any good social tactic, it’s one to be tested by your brand. And even though the success of hashtags on LinkedIn remains to be seen, one rule can be agreed on, use them sparingly and with intent so you don’t ruin your follower’s overall LinkedIn experience.

#WhatNow?

Hashtags are your friend. But, as with any friendly relationship, don’t overuse them to avoid annoying your other friends. As with any part of a strong social media strategy, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. In order to see what really works for your brand, you have to tweet, post, hashtag and repeat to see what works for you.

Your Brand

Why Your Brand Is More Important Than Ever

In 2017, with the rise of would-be entrepreneurs and “gurus,” competition for your product or service is fierce. In less than a day, a competitor can have a logo, tagline, website and social channels (complete with hashtags re-tweeted by their friends and family). Furthermore, because they probably whipped these assets up themselves or hired their kid sister with a large Instagram following, their overhead isn’t as steep as yours — so they can afford to deliver on the cheap. So, what’s your next move? How do protect yourself against this type of competition?

This virtual pop-up-shop phenomenon can (and does) work, but there’s one element that can make it NOT work quickly: substance. Your product or service is more than just a product or service — your deliverable and its success (or failure) is grounded and solidified by your brand. And, well, brands don’t just happen overnight.

A company’s brand is its body, mind and soul — it defines the ethos and reason for being to your customers or clients, employees, and stakeholders. A brand is the ship: With carefully constructed design, built to weather the hardest of situations, it will guide a company through anything. Without a brand, products and services are simply the sails flapping in the wind without anchor or direction.

Let’s take a look at why a strong brand is so important for success. Along the way, we’ll share a few ways you can make your brand a priority in 2017.

The Importance of Cohesive Branding — Omni-Channel Marketing

Your brand should be recognizable from every exposure point: brick and mortar, mobile app, website, social media accounts, etc. This is described as omni-channel marketing, where consistency and continuity are key to elevating the level of familiarity, following and trust.

Why is this so important? It is, perhaps, more important now than it was just 15 years ago because there are so many more places your brand, and your audiences, are. In each of those places, if the message and presence are the same, it resonates and solidifies legitimacy and cultivates brand affinity (which, in turn, has been proven to drive profit).

Your logo, vision and mission statements, color palette, and tagline are all important elements of your brand. However, what’s really at stake here is how all of those elements collectively present themselves to a customer, or potential customer, in a way that makes them feel well-served. An omni-channel strategy is best built when it makes the customer’s experience its priority. A user’s experience on your website should be as seamless as the experience in-store and in-app.

This sounds a bit overwhelming, but really, it comes down to quality control and audience insight. Here are some ways to get started:

  • Conduct a survey: Learn how your audiences prefer to engage with your brand. (Hint: Not all of your audiences prefer to use your website to contact you. Some still like to pick up the phone, and some even want to tweet you!)
  • Do an audit: Set a day or two aside and pull together every single place your brand is exposed — website, collateral, Facebook, emails, vendor profiles, etc. Find the inconsistencies — old messaging, out-of-stock product, etc. — and commit to updating and maintaining your assets.
  • Step back: Once you’ve done your survey and audit, find the places where inconsistencies exist, and also find where your messaging, logo and colors could use some updating. Your brand should never go stagnant.

Take Your Social Media Seriously (and DON’T Leave It to the Intern)

Your brand is the personality of your business, and just like first introductions between business prospects, you only get one first impression. There’s no better place to let that personality work for you than on your social media channels. Now that social media marketing has proven itself as a key player for ROI and conversions, using it as a method to grow your brand, build awareness and drive preference is a necessary part of the branding puzzle. Take note: 71 percent of consumers say they’re more likely to purchase from a brand they follow on social media.

Still an evolving medium for marketers, social media is not the outsider it once was in the conference room. Obviously, selling on social is the end goal, but it should not be the only goal of your social media strategy. The presentation of your brand to your audiences should remain the driving force behind your commitment to social media.

One way to rethink your social media presence, or to begin thinking about it, is to see it as a direct connection to your customers — a connection more direct than any other form of marketing, well, ever. Through your social channels, you can discover new audiences, revelations about your current ones and opportunities for your company to better serve your customers or, even, beat the competition.

This is not a blog post about why your business should have social media channels. However, it is a blog post about controlling your message and making your brand the grand master of your organization. With the number of impasses and connections social media creates, especially as users embrace marketing messages, it is imperative that your presence syncs with your overall brand strategy.

Where and how to control your brand on social:

  • Visuals: Sync profile, cover and header photos across all channels with your current campaigns, messaging or product/service offerings.
  • Links: Keep them up-to-date and working. This includes campaign URL’s tied to landing pages, contact buttons and general “about us” links.
  • Content: Don’t have time to create a separate content strategy for your channels? You should reconsider this as a priority, but in the meantime, repurpose what you have and tweak it for each channel to keep your channels timely and engaging.
  • Engage and respondNearly 70 percent of consumers have used social for customer service-related inquiries, and at least 42 percent of them expect a response in less than an hour; if you are going to promote your brand on social, be prepared to respond and engage in a timely manner.

No Press Is Bad Press?

An often-overlooked arm of nurturing brands is how that brand or company is presented in the press or news. Unlike your website, your social content or even your brick-and-mortar stores, your brand representation and interpretation can’t be highly controlled in this space.

Small businesses in particular, due to constrained resources, are sometimes oblivious as to what “earned media” can be won out in the world. There are ways to help control your brand in this space, but it’s not 100 percent effective. Ways to get a handle on this are:

  • Get to know the media: Do some research; find out who is writing in your local market and your industry, whether for newspapers, magazines, radio or TV. If you can, make some connections — they may become invaluable in times of crisis.
  • Stay on alert: If you don’t have time to scan for any mentions of your company, set up Google Alerts; these will send you emails, based on your selected frequency, when a word or phrase (i.e. your company name, similar products, competitors, etc.) that you’ve tagged is mentioned.
  • Read/watch the news: Staying on top of your industry’s news allows you to be better prepared to react, or even be proactive, with your own brand or messages.

Personal Branding for Brand Affinity

In the age of “Googling it,” having a professional online presence that you can be proud of isn’t only necessary when you’re looking for new employment opportunities. Consumers are more skeptical than ever of whom they buy from, and they research EVERYTHING. Just as someone may read up on your mission statement, investigate a corporate social responsibility commitment, or even check how your company interacts on social, they may even be inclined to research the people you employ. Personal branding is just one more intersection between a potential customer and a sale, because consumers want to feel good about where their money is being spent.

As a test, Google yourself, and then, Google yourself plus the company you work for (or even do it for some of your most visible employees). Review how the personal and professional information blends, review for facts (correct job titles, achievements, etc.), and be on the lookout for public mentions (published articles, quotes, etc.). Do you, or your employees, embody the brand you are trying to convey everywhere else? What assumptions could a potential customer, client or lead interpret from his or her own search.

This search can span across social media profiles, too. If your CMO is ranting about how incompetent your team is, or your retail manager is venting about “stupid customers,” you’ll want to know, because these are all ill-fitted opportunities for customers to turn away from you, or for potential ones to pass you over. Here’s a crash course on corralling your personal branding or that of your employees:

  • Evaluate: Audit your social media and online presence, and request the same of key employees — and do it on a regular basis. Review the types of posts and comments you make and their sentiment. Ask yourself if it’s something you wouldn’t mind a potential prospect seeing. (Remember, the internet never forgets!)
  • Review Privacy Settings: Don’t want to have to worry about what you say or just how many cat videos you share? Another option is to make your social accounts private and visible only to those you approve of or accept connections from.
  • Consider a Social Media Policy: If you’re looking to get ahead of this task, consider crafting a social media policy for your employees, one that guides them in the best practices for using social media as a professional and that also provides them the resources to promote the brand and its lifestyle on their own social channels. Employee advocacy can be very powerful.
  • Training: Consider investing in personal brand training, for example, training on how you and your employees can harness the power of LinkedIn, or how best to interact on social media on behalf of your brand.

The Power of Brand

Links have been made between a brand and a customer’s likelihood of purchase and re-purchase. Just look at megabrands like Dunkin’ Donuts, whose brand following is as strong as its dark roast — even leading some people to commit to Dunkin’ or nothing else. It has taken this brand years to perfect that pink and orange recipe for gold, but it’s not just with their ads, social channels or new donut rollouts that they refine and harness the brand loyalty among their customers. They LIVE their brand and don’t ask questions. Every shop, from the cups to the donuts, tables and employees, follows guidelines, and the company demands quality every time. And what happens when that medium iced coffee with extra sugar and double cream gets served one sugar short? Dunkin’ is there, replying on Facebook to their customer’s less-than-perfect experience.

Do you have to be as a big as Dunkin’ for your brand to be just as important? Absolutely not. Dunkin’ may have more resources to throw at the cause, but your company’s size shouldn’t stop you, either. Through our recommendations outlined here, along with some prioritization, your brand can also work for you in ways that you didn’t think were possible — and the same can be said about your employees.

Have you found your own methods for nurturing your brand? Or did you learn something new?