How to use #Hashtags in your business

“What is a hashtag?” is the most common question I hear when I give presentations on social media. People typically understand the concept but the deeper question is really, “How can I use hashtags in my business?”

In this, my first article for the new #SocialBiz blog for In Business, I’ll show you what hashtags are, the first thing you should be doing with them (hint: it’s not what you’d expect), and how to properly use them in your business.

What is a hashtag, really?

Pretend on one hand you have proper English — the question, “To whom am I speaking?” is a good example. On the other hand, you have an emoji. You know, those cute little pictures that accent your text messages. Hashtags fall somewhere right in the middle of those two things. Hashtags are a way to concisely embody a phrase or an idea.

For example, instead of saying, “Now I know this sounds self-important, but I really just want to point out something cool about myself,” you could just use the disclaimer #HumbleBrag. Heck, you don’t even have to capitalize the letters. That’s how informal these things really are.

Every bit as important, hashtags are searchable. Let’s say you’re an aspiring author and one of the things you do each morning is write for an hour. Want to find people just like you with whom you can commiserate? You could search Google for, “New authors who write in the mornings,” or you could simply use the hashtag #AMWriting (a.m. instead of p.m. being the first part of that particular hashtag) on your favorite social network.

How can you use hashtags to grow your business?

This is what you’re probably not doing on social media that I want you to do first: listen. Think about your customers and where they’re hanging out online. What are they saying and how are they saying it?

Search the social platforms on which you’re active to see what people are already discussing. What hashtags are they using? How are they using them? What’s the frequency with which they’re used?

Popular hashtags can either be event-based or topic-based. Let’s take a look at both examples.

Event-based

On Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, 80,000 fans will converge on Camp Randall for the Ohio State vs. Wisconsin football game. On that day, we can already predict that the #WiscVsOSU hashtag will suddenly explode to life after months of almost no activity. How can you convert event traffic to traffic for your business?

Publicize what you're doing at your location by using the #WiscVsOSU hashtag, as well as #UWBadgers and #OnWisconsin. In addition to just promoting yourself though, start contributing help and advice for those posing questions. If you’re running a restaurant and people are searching for a hotel, help them out. If your establishment is selling T-shirts and someone needs a doughnut, send ’em in the right direction. Remember, it’s called “social” and not “selfish” media.

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Topic-based

Let’s say your company develops custom software for businesses. You might initially think of using hashtags like #Software, #Business, or #CustomSoftware. Consider going a level deeper though and ask yourself, “Who will be using the software we’re creating and what problems will they be solving with it?” It may turn out the C-level execs want a simple dashboard with which to make business decisions, and a more appropriate, targeted hashtag would be #BusinessIntelligence or #BI for short.

Search those hashtags and find conversations already happening. How could you benefit those participating in those discussions? Have you ever wondered to yourself, “What should I be saying on social media?” Well, wonder no more. Look for ways to help people, and you’ll never run out of ways to contribute.

When you want to capture attention for articles you’ve written, videos you’ve created, or to publicize your software solutions, use the #BusinessIntelligence (or #BI) hashtag in your posts. It will help those searching for that topic find you much more easily than if you omitted it. Remember though, your audience will be much more willing to listen to your pitch once you’ve earned their trust through being helpful.

Have you ever wanted to create your own hashtag?

Before creating your own hashtag, you need to consider one big caveat: you can never “own” one. Remember, people can use it whenever and however they want. That concern aside, how can you encourage people to use your hashtag? Let them know that you’ll be listening.

At the core, all of us fear using social media because of one overarching question: “What if no one is listening to me?” Help assuage that concern and let people know there will be at least one person ready to answer their tweet, post, or update.

What questions do you have about using hashtags in your business? What has been your experience in using them?

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