Yesterday, I spent the day in a hashtag war with my boss, who thought it would be fun to send all of his e-mails/texts to me with # in front of just about everything he wrote, in order to prove to the world once and for all that he is indeed hip and social media savvy. He took a particular interest in the hashtag, like many do, because of how incredibly widely used it is on social media these days. Of course I, in good fun, had no choice but to participate in these antics, to the point that, by the end of the day, I did not even realize I was doing it anymore. Thank goodness today is a new day, and we both forgot that we were waging hashtag war yesterday. Still, I couldn't help but think that this is how it starts; we start to use hashtags to emphasize something, then something else and something else, and it evolves into forgetting that we are even doing it. When EVERYTHING is emphasized, all of a sudden NOTHING is.
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I START TYPING IN ALL UPPERCASE FONT, FOR EXAMPLE. PRETTY SOON IT DOESN'T SEEM LIKE I'M SHOUTING ANYMORE BECAUSE IT HAS EVOLVED INTO JUST MY NORMAL SPEECH. THAT IS WHAT HASHTAGS ARE TODAY; THEY JUST A PART OF NORMAL SPEECH ON SOCIAL MEDIA. FEW PEOPLE EVEN KNOW THEY ARE DOING IT.
Today, ironically!, I came across an article that explains the origin of the hashtag and its original purposes: http://www.jpenterprises.com/blog/2013/06/hashtag-origin
The article made me start to think even more about the hashtag and its use. Of course the social media applications themselves are using hashtags. Twitter has been most well known for their hashtag use and part of their claim to fame is in popularizing it. Facebook is also starting to see more hashtag usage as well, and several other social media sites are getting on board with the trend. Vine, owned by Twitter, obviously uses the hashtag, and Facebook's Instagram is also using hashtags as well. Google+, Pinterest, YouTube, Tumblr, and many more are also following suit.
So, with all of the large social networks using hashtags, yet there is such a wide use of these tags for #sometimes #no #apparent #reason at all, how are we to make sense of the hashtag and its purposes? Better yet, how can we use the hashtag for business purposes? Here are a couple of pointers to make hashtags work for you and your business:
1. Be consistent! If you are a social media manager for a business and would like your audience to trend your topic, make sure you use it consistently. Do not go from #yourbusinessname to #yourbusinessnickname to #somevariationofyourname. Decide what your hashtag will be and use it all the time until it catches on.
2. Pick a short hashtag! For example, if you are Point Park University and you would like to make your posts trend, you may want to consider #pointpark rather than #pointparkuniversity. Think about what the users/audience will want as well as your own desire to brand yourself. For example, you may think it is super important to get that "university" word in there for branding, but the fact is, you'll be hashtagging all by your lonesome. Your audience will rebel and pick the short version of your name, and you will be missing the opportunity to promote your brand.
3. Be flexible! Even if you have picked a short hashtag and been consistent with how you have used it, there might just frankly be people calling you something entirely different. You might think that you are #pointpark, for example, and in fact everyone thinks you are #ppu. If that is the case, you might have to be flexible and switch your strategy; go with what works and don't beat a dead horse with a hashtag that is not catching on. In the words of Regina George, "stop trying to make 'fetch' happen! It's not going to happen!"
4. Know your audience! You are going to need to know your audience so that you can actually relate to them and keep them reading what you write. Social media is about building connections, not just selling, so make sure your posts are a conversation rather than a sales pitch. Hashtag fun stuff, be funny, and if you can't do any of those things, ask someone else to be your social media manager. #sorry
Last but not least, here is a special piece of advice - Tagboard. We experimented with it for our small event at Point Park University, the SAEM High School Summer Workshop. We asked the students to use the hashtag #saempgh to mention the event on social media. Now, everything they said (or we said with #saempgh) is compiled there on a "board." We can easily connect with our users just by going to Tagboard and pulling up our tag. Instead of simply trying to connect with everyone through impersonal mass posts, we are now able to see what people say about us, click on their posts, and respond to them directly. It is a new world and we have to find new ways to engage our audience.