What are hashtags?
First of all, you can easily recognize a hashtag because it will have the number symbol before it (#). A hashtag is defined as any phrase or single word that has the # symbol attached to it. They are usually used to add further context to a post. Hashtags started off on Twitter, but soon became used on many other social media networks (including Facebook.)
What are hashtags used for?
Hashtags are terms that are usually used for one of three purposes - to allow someone to search that term, to show the user of the term as part of a group or brand, and to add humor or pizzazz to their social media post.
For the first example, a business focusing on social media marketing may tweet something like "We know what's best for your business #socialmedia". That hashtag is meant to draw the attention of anyone searching for "social media" on Twitter. (Tweets that have hashtags can also appear in Google search results.) This use of a hashtag is meant to be purely informative.
For the second example, a user might be sharing a story about their "best childhood memory" because other Twitter users have been doing so, and may post something like "going to visit grandma and grandpa #bestchildhoodmemory". While the user may not actually care if someone is searching for "bestchildhoodmemory" as a hashtag, they are making themselves a member of this "group" of people who have used this hashtag. Their Twitter friends may then see that hashtag and say "oh, I should tweet about my best childhood memory!" and use it in their tweet as well.
For the third and last example, a Twitter user may post "Had a fun day at school #not". The "not" hashtag is not meant to be searchable or show the user as a part of a "not" group - rather, it is meant to add humor to the tweet and show sarcasm.
Why should businesses use them?
The main reason? Hashtags can go viral (meaning that a lot of users are posting with your hashtag), and if this is a successful hashtag campaign, then your company's social media networks and website will be getting a lot of hits from potential customers. This is great - except when hashtags backfire.
One popular example of a hashtag mishap is the McDonald's "#McDstories" campaign. McDonald's invited Twitter users to tweet their stories of eating their food, assuming that they would all be fuzzy and happy and warm. Sure, many positive stories were shared...but so were many negative ones. As the "#mcDstories" hashtag began to be seen as a funny meme, more and more Twitter users would use it to express horror stories or just to insult the company and the brand.
That's why, if you're going to use hashtags, make sure that they are unlikely to be abused. Saying something like "#ILikeCompanyXBecause" (I Like Company X Because) is a much better hashtag than "#CompanyXIs" (Company X Is) because the former invites generally positive posts. The latter hashtag is vague.
Using a hashtag of just your company name may allow someone to say something negative, but that comes with the territory - you can't control everything everyone says about you, nor should you. Customers now look for transparency in a company, so things like fake tweets about so-and-so loving your brand are only going to make you look foolish. Instead, try to create a hashtag campaign that will encourage your best customers to speak up and say what they think about your brand.
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