Raise your hand if, in the past month, you’ve clicked on a hashtag and discovered a new brand to follow and engage with as a result.
Yeah, me neither.
If you've been spending time thinking about your social media output and trying to find ways to make it more effective, you've likely seen hashtags recommended as a way for brands to “gain visibility” and “be part of a larger conversation.” However, marketing hashtags more often than not end up falling on deaf ears. For small B2B organizations especially, hashtags are often both a waste of space (a precious commodity when you are working in 140 character increments) and even a bit sad. Does anyone know if there is a German word for the feeling you get when you read a business tweet with multiple hashtags but no engagement?
Of course, there are times when hashtags aren’t a bad idea. They do make sense during events (so keep using your conference hashtag to help manage the tweets of all of your attendees) or as part of an established “Twitter chat” (which I consider an event as well, albeit a fully digital one). However, for your daily run-of-the-mill small business social posts, there is simply no reason to include hashtags – unless you want to sound like this:
Why you should think twice before using that hashtag
For all the talk about using hashtags on Twitter (the birthplace of hashtags) and Facebook, there is something that people don’t often mention, which I will now shout from the rooftops as loud as I possibly can:
Hashtags don’t only fail to improve engagement rates – they can also hurt them.
If you don’t believe me, I would like to kindly direct to you data collected by the Social Times. In a study of 600,000 tweets over a two-month period, tweets without hashtags outperformed tweets with hashtags. What’s more, the more hashtags were used in a single post, the lower its engagement was.
Let that sink in for a minute.
For hashtag users, this means one of two things:
- The goal of improving social engagement with a hashtag has likely been hampered by the very thing that was used to boost it.
- The hashtag was used without a goal of improving engagement, which means there was no strategy or justification for using a hashtag in the first place. (Why would anyone do such a thing!?)
Thankfully, there are other ways to generate interest – and engagement – from your social followers.
How to feel confident about giving up the hashtag
Bad habits can be hard to break. If you need some help weaning yourself off of useless and potentially engagement-ruining hashtags, might I offer you some alternatives?
- Find a better way to add value to your post.
Photos and video are great for this. Instead of thinking of the perfect hashtag (or hastily adding a hashtag no one cares about), find media to attach to your post instead.
- Reconsider the content and tone used in your social post.
Instead of relying on the visibility of people you hoped would be perusing content tied together by your chosen hashtag, focus on generating interest with the people who already follow you. If you have a deep understanding of your audience’s wants, needs and interests (which you should!), this shouldn’t be too difficult.
- Use trigger words and phrases to inspire action.
Trigger words are words that tap into your reader’s emotions and inspire them to do something. Words and phrases such as “Don’t forget!”; “Had enough?”; and “Insider information” speak to our sense of urgency, feelings of frustration, and desire for the forbidden. Copyblogger has a fantastic explanation of trigger words and some examples to get you started.
Can’t quit them? At least be smart about using them
While I can’t condone regular use of hashtags for marketing purposes, if you feel you absolutely, positively must use them on Twitter and Facebook, please – for the love of all that is sacred in digital marketing – abide by the following guidelines:
- Only use one hashtag per post (remember, the more hashtags, the lower your engagement will be).
- Know what the purpose and goal of the hashtag is. If you don’t know why you’re using it, you don’t need it.
- Be consistent by using the same hashtag across all social networks.
- Don’t hijack a trending hashtag that has nothing to do with your business. There is a special place in marketing hell for brands that do this, like UK-based Homebase:
Homebase received a lot of flack for this insensitive and illogical use of a hashtag paying respect to Prince – and rightly so. If you’re thinking “but any engagement is good engagement,” you’re failing to understand the purpose of social engagement in the first place: engagement that is centered on outrage toward your brand won’t help your business make money. Plus, it’s not very fun to be on the receiving end of (justifiably) angry tweets.
When you're writing your next tweet or Facebook post, feel free to skip the marketing hashtag - your engagement rate will thank you for it.