One symbol has changed the way we interact over the internet. What was known by some as the pound symbol, and others as an octothorpe - is now universally known as the hashtag.
A Symbol Transformed: Inception and Growth of #
The use of the hashtag grew out of a need to group relevant content on Twitter. In August of 2007, Chris Messina, a blogger suggested using the pound symbol (#) for groups on Twitter. That same year, reached out to Nate Ritter, a California resident tweeting extensively about the wildfires, to use #SanDiegoFire on all his tweets pertaining to the fire. It was such an easy way to find relevant content, that its popularity grew quickly. By 2009, Twitter introduced a search tool and a section on Trending Topics that accounted for the most popular hashtags at any given time. Hashtag use grew in 2010, with the launch of Instagram and exploded when people realized its potential in organizing mass events and popularizing cultural trends.
Youth leaders began using the #ArabSpring to fight for democracy with a united voice in 2011. People from all over the world used this hashtag to lend their support to events transpiring in the Middle East. In 2017, #metoo started trending worldwide after a call to action from actress Alyssa Milano. Hundreds of thousands of women across the globe began sharing their stories of sexual harassment using this hashtag, and it grew into a formidable social movement. Hashtags evolved from a way to group relevant content to an indispensable internet lexicon.
Matters to Marketers
The immense reach and popularity of hashtags have made it the most effective way for internet users to increase their followers, show support for social issues, add context to their social media posts, find target audiences, and build their own brand.
Today, hashtags are an integral part of digital marketing and a brand’s content strategy. Here are some key ways in which hashtags are used in marketing:
Finding the Best Hashtag
In order to utilize the hashtag to its fullest potential, a brand must be able to identify which hashtags are best suited to their marketing needs and goals. As the popularity of different hashtags change quickly, here are some strategies for brands to stay on top of their hashtag game:
Take time and put in the effort to create a branded hashtag that is catchy, clear and concise. They help social media users associate and interact with your brand directly.
Capitalize on trending hashtags that are relevant to your content. Trending hashtags are a great way to increase the virality of your posts but they must be used only when they fit with the overall voice and presence of your brand.
Conduct a competitive analysis to stay informed of how your competitors engage with their target audience and identify what keywords and hashtags they use frequently.
Use social media listening tools to gather information about terms and topics talked about most frequently and the sentiments associated with those conversations online. This is crucial in giving you real-time information about which hashtags would be most popular and best suited to different social media platforms.
Social media platforms themselves provide recommendations related to the hashtags you have already decided to use. These hashtags are usually more specific and will help you connect to a more targeted audience.
Keep track, inspect and assess the hashtags you have already used. This can help you identify which hashtags are most effective over time.
Overusing hashtags is a poor strategy. Hashtags are effective tools to cut through the clutter on the internet, and using too many of them undermines this functionality. Too many hashtags make the post unprofessional and inconcise.
Monitor the hashtags used by influencers in your industry. Influencers are usually the first to know about trends online, and oftentimes important in setting those trends. They are a great source for finding the most relevant hashtags for your niche.
Do not fear boldness. Unique hashtags can make your brand stand out.
I have compiled a basic guide to using hashtags on different social media platforms.
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