How To Write A Hashtag Strategy (And Why You Desperately Need One)
I have finally hit the age where I realize I am no longer a part of the hip, young generation. I could sense myself falling out of it once everyone I knew was on Snapchat, and I just had no interest in having one. I also sensed my transformation out of the hip generation when I taught youth group. Man, those kids were using words I had never even heard of before. While to some of you this should be no issue, I mean it's common sense that I would eventually grow out of the younger generation, to social media managers this should definitely be a concern. We do not have to 'live' the hip life, but we do have to always be on top of trends to stay relevant in an ever-changing social media landscape.
And the biggest way I have seen social media pros ignore recent trends is by thinking that the hashtag has become irrelevant. If Instagram had never come on the scene I might, just might, semi-agree. The hashtag used to be the primary search tool for Twitter. Obviously, that's no longer a thing, so you could see where some would think it has lost its power. However, the younger generation's obsession with Instagram has brought the 'pound sign' back to life, and marketers need to start revamping their hashtag strategies so they can reach this generation where they are.
So here are a few tips to make sure your work is 'hip' and on point with a hashtag strategy:
The single most important step to any strategy is to start with research. Find your target audience on social media and see what hashtags they are using most. Do any of these relate to your brand? If so, add them to an excel spreadsheet. Add every single one you can, making sure to reference where and how you saw it being used in one of the columns of your spreadsheet.
Think about how you want your brand to be 'branded' on social media. Every hashtag strategy should include hashtags for awareness (like the ones you found during the research stage) and hashtags for branding (ones you create that relate directly back to your brand). Your branded hashtags should somehow relate back to your brand. You can do this by actually including your brand's name in the hashtag, or by tying your hashtag to your brand's tagline.
Narrow It Down
The biggest mistake pros make when writing hashtag strategies is including too many hashtags. While you will need quite a few (Buffer claims you need at least 11 to have a successful Instagram post), you do not need the whole kitchen sink. The best way to narrow down hashtags is to use a fancy little tool called Hashtagify.me. This tool will tell you if the hashtag is popular, and if so, what the conversation is around the hashtag. You want to choose hashtags that are popular and have a positive conversation around them. You also want to make sure they are not 100 percent owned by another brand (aka that only one brand has been using them). Hashtagify.me also shows what other hashtags are being used, related to the one you are researching. This can help you find more hashtags to use, in case you did not find many during your research phase. When it comes to your branded hashtags, you want to make sure that no one else has used them previously.
This step is the actual meat of the strategy. In your excel doc, create the following columns:
- Description: Describe what this hashtag means.
- When To Use: Is it only to be used with a certain image? Is it only for a certain campaign? Is it to be used with every post about the brand?
- Who Can Use: Is it a hashtag only for employee advocacy? If you have multiple brands/offices, should only certain brands/offices be using it?
- Example: Provide examples of how it used with branded content.
- Active/Inactive: Some hashtags may become inactive. For example, if it is a hashtag for a campaign, it would be inactive once that campaign is over. If it's a hashtag for a holiday or an event, it will become inactive until the next holiday or event.
- Branded/Generic: Branded are the hashtags you created for your brand that no one else is using, while generic are the ones you researched for brand awareness.
Once you create this fancy document, socialize it! Make sure everyone who touches social media for your brand, including employees participating in an employee advocacy program, have access to the document so they know when they should/should not be using certain hashtags.
This is a tough, but important, part of the strategy. Monitor every hashtag on your doc by setting up search streams for each one (you can do this for free through Hootsuite), and make sure they are being used correctly. If an employee, office, or another part of your brand is using them incorrectly, send a kind (but firm) email with the doc attached, reminding them of appropriate times to use each hashtag.
Test And Learn
Hashtags change quickly, and not keeping up with the pace of their transformation could land you on the front page of Mashable. If you see a hashtag on your doc just isn't performing well or starts to be used in an inappropriate way by an audience you have no control over, immediately remove it. Also make an effort to always search for new hashtags you could be using. Every time you make a change, be sure to re-socialize the doc to the appropriate team members, offices and branches of the brand.
While some people feel hashtags have become irrelevant as Twitter becomes less relevant, that is just not the case. As the younger generation continues to move to more trendy social media networks that also utilize hashtags, make sure that you are staying 'hip' and have a hashtag strategy in place. You cannot underestimate the power of an organic hashtag search on these social media networks.
- Marji J. Sherman