Hashtags are a social superhero’s best tool when it comes to parsing the stream of consciousness on Twitter. However, they can also be an arch nemesis in the hands of someone who knows that they exist, but doesn’t understand their power.
For the uninitiated, a hashtag is essentially a way to come together around a conversation. Think of it as a keyword on steroids. It’s a way to search for what people are saying about a specific topic. It’s also a way to connect with folks who aren’t necessarily your followers.
Even with an understanding of hashtag basics, they are quite possibly the most misunderstood part of Twitter.
Before creating a new hashtag, there are some questions you should ask yourself.
1. Are people already having the conversation? You don’t want to start a hashtag for a campaign or an event if someone else is already using it. Do a Twitter search for that hashtag, and see when it was used last (or used at all) and for what purposes.
2. Is it a conversation that anyone wants to have? If you’re starting a hashtag just because you want to be cool and hip and “brand” it on Twitter, but no one else is interested and participating, you’re having a conversation by yourself.
3. Do you need your own hashtag? (See points 1 and 2.) For example, if you are the sponsor of an event, and that event has it’s own hashtag, do you need to start another? You want to have your posts show up in the largest conversation.
4. Is it a conversation that makes sense? If you start a hashtag that doesn’t make any sense to someone looking in, no one will participate. #431MFC for example, will elicit a “huh?” from the Twitterverse.
5. Will I put promotion behind a hashtag to increase conversation? If you start a new hashtag, it’s a new conversation. If no one is using it, it’s likely no one knows about it. For an event or a campaign, you’ll need to entice participants. Unless you’re Jimmy Fallon, and you announce a hashtag on a show with millions of viewers, hashtags are not generally an “if-you-build-it-they-will-come” sort of thing. You may need paid promotion. You’ll want to put the hashtag on every piece of collateral or every slide deck presented at an event.
This one is so important, so I’ll get a little bit blunt. Just sticking a hashtag on something doesn’t brand it, or do you any good if no one is using it.
6. Is it an internal or external hashtag? Let’s say you’re having an internal all-hands. You don’t care if external folks participate, but you’d like to allow your employees to have a conversation and follow along. It’s important to realize, however, that the external followers of all these employees will also be able to see the hashtag. So it’s important to still ask questions 1-4 here. (Yes, you need to promote to employees. They won’t use it if they don’t know about it.)
7. Am I adding a hashtag for the sake of a hashtag? See questions 1-4.
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