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How to hashtag your way to social media success

18th Sep 2013
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It is almost impossible to escape the hashtag nowadays, and they form a key part of many business’ marketing strategies, whether they are a multinational corporation or a small business just starting out. Their function is simple; on social networks, any phrase (without spaces) which is preceded by a hash symbol (#) will create a ‘tag’. This hashtag then functions as a search mechanism, a categorising tool or a marketing ploy. The hashtag has undoubtedly revolutionised the world of social media and promotion, to the extent that many people find themselves wondering how their marketing schemes could become so successful without the help of a simple grid-like character.

Though they originated on Twitter, hashtags have now spread across all relevant social networks, proving their worth as a method of communication and promotion for businesses and individuals. Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest and Tumblr all use hashtags as a way to categorise posts and group them with other posts of a similar theme. 

The general consensus is that the potential reach of the hashtag has not yet been fully realised by the business community. The hashtag has great potential as a marketing tool for businesses of all sizes. A great example of this is the ‘#SmallBusinessSaturday’ hashtag which was created by American Express; it helped owners to share insights about small business management, and collated the results in one easily accessible place, whilst also proving an invaluable promotional tool for all of the businesses which got a mention.

One of the best ways to use hashtags is to use them in conjunction with some kind of promotion. Advertising company Radium discovered in a survey that 51% of those who responded to a survey were more willing to share company hashtags if they were awarded some form of discount or a chance to enter a prize draw as a result. These sorts of campaigns are prevalent on Twitter, and also on emerging networks such as Instagram and Pinterest, where users tag a company name in their tweet and are entered into a competition. The benefits are twofold; all of the followers of each entrant is exposed to the company hashtag and brand, and the business running the promotion can use the hashtag to keep track of all of their entrants as well as engaging in ongoing marketing.  

Hashtags also open up a world of debate and completely open conversation that can be reliably tracked and followed. Whether conversing with other companies about strategies and past experiences, or interacting with clients and prospective customers about a brand-specific subject, starting up a hashtag invites people to get involved in a debate and engage with a certain dialogue.

Levelling the playing field

Smaller businesses can get involved with hashtags, which have been mooted as an innovation which will level the playing field when it comes to promoting and marketing amongst the big boys on the social networking scene. Thinking of a hashtag which is simple enough to consistently use, whilst also attracting attention and drawing in clicks to a business’ Twitter feed can help to increase their visibility on a national or even global scale. This will result in traffic and conversions, as long as the content produced on the site they are taken to is fresh and relevant. Hashtags certainly make it viable for smaller businesses to gain their moment in the spotlight. Any hashtag which is inventive, fun or useful can catch the eye of an influential person and go viral within minutes.

Hashtags are also highly specific, and can target consumers relatively easily. A basic hashtag like ‘#newcar’ or ‘#movinghouse’ would instantly target the broad demographic of people searching for those terms. Again, this also allows tracking so that businesses can see the type of person who is tagging these terms in their tweets. Targeted marketing using Twitter and other social networks has never been easier.

Though they are considered to be incredibly effective and a great marketing tool, users are advised to tread carefully and research their hashtags before they commit. McDonald’s recently launched a #McDStories hashtag, which was intended as a tag for people to post happy memories and anecdotes about their time eating at the fast food restaurant. However, it was quickly hijacked by people who posted about getting diabetes due to fast food and children becoming injured in McDonald’s’ play areas. It is worth remembering that, where hashtags are concerned, seeking good publicity through public opinion, especially for a product or service that regularly divides opinion, might not be the best move.

Hashtags should also be used sparingly. Companies hashtagging every other word in their tweets, or creating #incrediblylonghashtagswhicharehardtoread can project a sense that they are not entirely sure of their own social networking abilities, and have not researched how to use the networks to their highest potential. Potential customers will quite quickly realise that the business hasn’t fully embraced modern technology, and might be tempted to look to a more technologically advanced competitor.  

Despite these warnings, Twitter is awash with examples of great hashtagging practice by businesses. Domino’s Pizza once encouraged their followers to add #letsdolunch to their tweets. Once the number of tweets hit 85,000, Domino’s dropped their prices significantly for the lunchtime period of that day, giving customers a reward for their engagement in the promotion. The White House, increasingly engaged with a social media audience, launched a ‘#40Dollars’ hashtag, prompting users to explain what they could buy with the added $40 that a tax break would offer their family. Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, EA Sports FIFA, Coca-Cola, Special K and Starbucks are also brands that have been praised for their innovative use of hashtags to increase brand awareness, to kick-start promotional pushes and to ultimately reach a broader range of consumers.

Scott Dylan has worked alongside some of the most famous brands in the world in order to optimise web campaigns and generate astonishing results. From PPC to SEO via social media and content marketing, the web consultant has occupied the digital sphere for eleven years and can help to enhance any web campaign. To find out more about digital communication and social media, visit

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