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7 Tips for Building a Better Hashtag Strategy

Hashtags aren’t just for tweeters anymore. Now that Vine and Facebook have announced “trending hashtag” features, every social media promo campaign must have a well-chosen hashtag, and yesterday an amusing story reminded us how important the strategy behind these tags can be. Basically, some wise guy tweeted #nowthatcherisdead to announce the passing of former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher and scared a bunch of Cher fans (calm down, everyone: she’ll be playing Vegas well into the 22nd century).

It all seems very simple, but the fact that Budweiser thought this billboard was OK only two months ago shows us that hashtagging is still a little too complicated for some:

Half of the ads that aired during the last Super Bowl had hashtags, but that number should have been 100% because the strategy is no less important today than it was a year ago. And now it’s time to make some helpful suggestions!

1. Don’t use too many tags: Doesn’t it annoy you when someone sends a very basic tweet followed by five or six hashtag terms? It looks like a desperate attempt to get people who don’t follow you to notice what you’re saying — and it’s just as annoying when brands do it. One strategic hashtag is more than enough. Example: Charmin’s #tweetsfromtheseat.

2. Use capital letters when necessary: We know it’s annoying to have to occasionally hold the shift key down as you type, but a simple “#NowThatcherIsDead or, if you want to get really fancy, “Now_Thatcher_Is_Dead” would have helped to clear up that confusion.We know hashtags aren’t case-sensitive, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make the message clear to your followers. Susan Boyle learned this the hard way last year with #susanalbumparty.

3. Jump on trends if they’re relevant to your brand: Trending topics like #MeatlessMonday could win traffic for, say, a company that sells frozen vegetables.

If you see a trend that could benefit your brand, don’t be afraid to jump on it –as long as you research it first.

4. Only ask questions with very specific answers: If you ask your followers a hashtag-themed question that’s too open-ended then you should expect to get a whole lot of obscene replies. When you’re coming up with your tag, ask yourself “how would teenage boys react to this theme?” and consider a different phrase if your first thoughts turn to gross sexual innuendos or defamatory messages. Remember #McDStories? Don’t do that.

5. Start a chat: This is only relevant to certain brands, and they should be careful to promote only very specific chat themes (see above), but people like to participate. For example, the larger Mediabistro account sometimes turns our posts into chats that boost our traffic by encouraging media lovers to get involved:

6. Sync new tags to specific campaigns: This is a bit of an elaboration on tip #1. Don’t just throw a tag out there because you think it’s clever — link it to your new campaign the way advertisers did during the Super Bowl. Volvo social media manager Joe Barbagallo tells Digiday that brands should come up with a couple of central tags (like #MyFirstVolvo) and stick with them, because otherwise followers might get a little confused and stop paying attention. But if you’ve already planned a multimedia campaign? Slap a hashtag on it.

7. Recognize that hashtags are experiments: Just as we can’t really create “viral” content, most of our hashtags will not turn into big traffic winners. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying — we just need to be a little more strategic with the practice.

Are these tips all old news? In a way, yes — but as Budweiser demonstrated, many brands never got the message. (Thanks to Social Media Today for some of these hints. And follow them on Twitter.)

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