How Hashtags Work
Twitter hashtags are one of the strongest reasons this social media network has done so well. Let’s take a look at how we can make the most of them.
Step 1. What is a Hashtag and How do I Create One?
A hashtag is a keyword preceded by the “#” symbol. When inserted into a Twitter post, it helps people quickly find all posts also containing that particular hashtag. You can use capital letters within a hashtag to make them easier to remember (e.g. “#AllJobs” or “#alljobs”), but you cannot use spaces or all numerals. Hashtags can go in the beginning, middle or end of your tweet.
What hashtags do is allow people to search more easily for tweets on specific topics. When you search for a hashtag, every post containing that hashtag will be displayed in your feed area.
You can also create your own hashtag, but before you do, it’s a good idea to see if there is one that already exists – not just the exact hashtag you have in mind, but also similar hashtags already trending that might serve your purpose better.
There are two ways to quickly find hashtags out of thin air:
- Enter a hashtag in Twitter’s own search box
- Look for it on dedicated hashtag sites like Hashtags.org
Be warned, however: If you use Twitter’s own search box to search for specific hashtags, a very nasty trend has developed all on its own recently. People have been maneouvering extremely explicit pornographic photos into the “Top Photos” for such long-standard hashtags as “#FF” or “FollowFriday”.
How to find keywords at Hashtags.org:
This site is one of the best places to find hashtags – and not just find them, but see how well they are performing too.
- Go to Hashtags.org
- Click on the “How to” tab in the top horizontal menu and read up on the “Quick Start Guide to Hashtags”.
This wonderful resource won’t just tell you about Twitter hashtags, but give you information on other social platforms that have begun to use them. It will also tell you about other Twitter facts.
Step 2. How to Follow Trends
Follow trends and use their hashtags in your tweets. Trends may not often provide much value, since they are not driven by your keywords and contacts – but they do provide two things you can use:
- You can get a feel for Twitter culture by seeing what is going viral
- You can make use of highly viral, “seasonal” tweets to grab some visibility and exposure for your profile.
Even within tightly-focused niches, most people still celebrate holidays, seasons and seasonal landmarks. Remember that, and use it to your advantage.
(You can find trending hashtags on Twitter in your left-hand, vertical menu, as well as in Twitter-serving sites such as Hashtags.org.)
Step 3. How to use Hashtags Correctly
It’s easy to use hashtags correctly: What is a little trickier is using them effectively.
Once you’ve got past the basics of what not to do (use spaces or all numerals), you need to create hashtags that are catchy, memorable and easy to use.
The same goes for pre-existing hashtags created by others. Don’t grab the first hashtag you see for a topic or event: Check to see if there are better-trending versions.
Step 4. Making, Finding and Managing Hashtags
Don’t just search for hashtags in your Home feed search bar: Go to Twitter’s dedicated search and enter your keywords there.
Click on the “advanced search” anchor text, if you want to add specific search parameters.
Hashtag.org also quotes Twitter on what not to do, when creating hashtags:
It also tells the cautionary tale of designer Kenneth Cole, who created the “#Cairo” hashtag for his new collection and began tweeting it at the same time as the major uprising in Cairo, Egypt.
Worse, he tried to use the riots for promotion. This tweet has to be the ultimate in tackiness and insensitivity…
That is why it’s always vital to check out your hashtag keyword before rushing ahead to use it – it might already be trending in an entirely different context.
Tracking Your Hashtags
Hashtags.orgs has heavy-duty analytics – but as you can see, they don’t come cheap.
And since TweetChat effectively discontinued itself, thanks to Twitter API changes (though it has been rebranded as “SmartStream” and there is still a TweetChat URL) there are no really good free alternatives for thorough hashtag analysis.
A better solution for the average, single online marketer’s budget is Hashtracking, which offers a month’s free trial and starts at $29.00 per month. If your market’s main social network is primarily Twitter, this might be worth its weight in ROI.
Hashtracking provides real-time analytics and reports, their “smart control” also allows you to analyze reach and effectiveness.
This is a snapshot of Hashtracking real-time analysis…
You can also measure your hashtag reach manually (if less accurately) by keeping a count on how many retweets contain it and how many others use your hashtag.
Finally, after it has gained some use, you can return to Hashtracking’s main page and enter it in their “Hashtrack Explorer” field.
Step 5. How to Generate Hashtag Discussion
In order to generate discussion using a particular hashtag you’ve created, there are three steps you need to make sure you’ve taken:
- Create the hashtag around a highly specific, hot article, event or topic
- Actively cross-promote it – via your email list, your blog and other social media networks
- Provide a powerful incentive for people to share it
It doesn’t matter what this incentive is, as long as your target audience thinks it is something they can’t live without or can’t stop talking about. Your incentive could be:
- An affiliate contest
- A new product your market has been craving
- A free gift
- A webinar, teleseminar or podcast
- A viral video
- An online event (e.g. blog tour, workshop, etc.)
- A current, hot topic
You can also “register” your hashtag with services like Hashtag.org and Hashtracking. This doesn’t give you exclusive copyright to your hashtag – but it does serve it up in these platforms for others to notice and use.
Make sure you use your hashtag actively during your campaign. Increase your visits to Twitter, so that you can make sure your message reaches out to segments of your Twitter traffic that usually misses your tweets.
You can pre-schedule your tweets with free social media managers like Hootsuite, but a better idea is to tweet manually, in real-time – and hang around long enough to acknowledge retweets or thank or reply to those who spread your hashtag in person.
Ask others to retweet your hashtag-carrying posts.
Keep your hashtags short, for memorability and appeal. (Besides, if you #createahashtagthatswaytoolong you will eat up its retweetable real estate – there’ll be less room for people to write about it within their 140 character limit and it will lose its appeal.)
And remember: Before you set a hashtag you’ve created in use, be sure that it isn’t already connected with a negative or conflicting current event.
Step 6. Specific Hashtag Uses
The wonderful factor about Twitter hashtags is their versatility, while still providing specific functionality and uses.
You can use hashtags to:
- Promote a specific event – online or offline
- Promote a new product or a free gift
- Start a discussion around a hot topic
- Bond with a group
- Keep people abreast of updates on a topic, event or product
(This last strategy is a great way to help build a buzz by keeping a conversation going.)
Note that several specific hashtag uses are the same as specific hashtag incentives. Your hashtag should be something people can’t wait to pass on – and it should be hot.
When you are creating it, brainstorm your topics and keyword choices thoroughly and carefully. Your choices will play no small part in the success of your hashtag.
As mentioned, hashtags that are too long usually don’t catch on. And if you are promoting a particular hashtag, it’s better not to include other hashtags in your tweet. (In fact, using multiple hashtags within a tweet is a fast way to be branded as a spammer!)
But the best part about hashtags is their flexibility. So do use them and track them – even if it’s only within a Twitter search, to see who were the last one hundred people to spread your hashtag.
Remember – when you create your own hashtag, you don’t just create a keyword: If you’ve chosen and spread it correctively, you can create an entire online community.