Within the last decade, hashtags have developed into a digital phenomenon that shape the way people use social media. Hashtags offer particular value to businesses, as they can be used to craft a unique online identity and drive engagement with a company’s audience. Despite the positive potential, social media managers must avoid problematic uses.
Hashtags, which can be integrated into posts in a variety of ways, operate as a catalogue of social media conversations. When users put the pound sign in front of a word or phrase, it becomes a link that, when clicked on, allows users to view every post featuring that hashtag. Businesses can gain exposure by joining conversations and creating original tags to log conversations about their company.
Although hashtags are useful, avoid inundating your posts with them. Excessive usage can provoke attention from spam accounts or users who are simply looking to receive a follow back, rather than potential prospects who are genuinely interested in your company.
One of the most beneficial uses of hashtags is integrating trending tags in posts. Utilizing a trending hashtag presents the unique opportunity for free exposure to thousands, if not millions, of users. Hashtags begin trending after repeated mentions in posts. The list of current trending hashtags appears on the side of the screen on Twitter and in the upper right corner on Facebook.
Consider, for example, Subway’s successful usage of a trending hashtag to promote their business and charitable activities. November 3 was National Sandwich Day, and a hashtag with the same name trended for the majority of the day. On October 31, Subway began using #NationalSandwichDay, thereby establishing themselves as an authority on a tag that ultimately trended. Throughout the day on November 3, Subway retweeted and tweeted original content with #NationalSandwichDay in the message. They used the hashtag to promote their buy one, get one free sandwich deal. Additionally, their posts promised to donate one meal to Feeding America for every sandwich they sold that day.
Their tweets featuring this tag garnered more activity with their audience than their normal posts due to the popularity of the tag and their creative, brand relevant use of it. Their foresight on utilizing a tag that turned into a trend, their active participation throughout the day, and their brand appropriate, charitable application of the tag contributed to audience engagement and positive exposure for the company.
As tempting as it is to participate in popular hashtags, businesses need to navigate them carefully. Although some trending hashtags have no political, negative, or problematic implications, it’s important to peruse the posts before sending out a message.
In 2014, frozen pizza brand DiGiorno illustrated the risk of tweeting a trending hashtag. DiGiorno sent out a tweet that said, “#WhyIStayed You had pizza.” Although the tweet was an attempt to interject a witty, brand relevant post in the conversation, the hashtag they utilized was trending as a vehicle to discuss instances of women staying in abusive relationships.
Although DiGiorno apologized and deleted the tweet swiftly, claiming they did not read the context of the hashtag before posting their tweet, this situation could have been prevented. To avoid potentially damaging circumstances such as this, be certain to read through the tweets to ensure the hashtag is light-hearted and does not reference any sensitive topics. Using hashtags only benefits a company if the context is thoughtful, appropriate, and relevant to the brand.
DiGiorno and Subway provide helpful guidance for using trending hashtags. With proper use, they can help create a unique online identity for your brand, connect with users, and garner engagement with a larger audience.