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Although Twitter has been around for a few years and is certainly no longer the “new kid on the block” in the social media world, many website owners still find the nuances of this communication tool difficult to grasp. Hashtags – those few short letters or words preceded by the “#” sign – represent a particular challenge, as the correct way to use them to promote your business and events isn't always immediately apparent.
However, they can be a powerful tool in increasing your Twitter following – as Single Grain found out when the strategic use of these tags boosted our number of followers by 13.4% – which makes it worth spending time to learn how to use them correctly. Today, let's take a look at what Twitter hashtags are and how you can use them effectively in order to grow your business and increase your presence in the social media space.
First of all, as mentioned earlier, Twitter hashtags are indicated through the use of the “#” sign, which may be appended to the abbreviations, initials, single words or phrases that represent a common interest. Let's look at a few examples to demonstrate how hashtags are used in real-time:
In a post a few weeks ago on unconventional Twitter strategies, we referenced the humorous use of the Twitter hashtag “#snakeonthetown, which followed the fictional exploits of the Egyptian cobra that escaped from the Bronx Zoo in March 2011. Anyone who wanted to follow along with these funny messages simply had to search for the snake's hashtag to stay tuned.
A more serious example of how Twitter hashtags can be used can be seen in the role the “#jan25” tag played in allowing Egyptian citizens to plan the Arab Spring protests that would eventually lead to the overthrow of the country’s government. Because congregating in public places for political activities was forbidden, Egyptian citizens used Twitter and other tools to coordinate a series of effective public protests from the digital realm.
But while these two examples certainly highlight effective uses of Twitter hashtags that allow observers to follow the issues that interest them, how can they be used to increase your business following?
The key lies in increased exposure. By carefully monitoring and tracking trending hashtags in your industry, you can provide expert commentary and capture the conversation on pertinent business issues that lead more people to follow your brand. Check out the following strategies to learn more about how Single Grain used hashtags to dramatically boost our number of followers…
Strategy #1 – Post to the hashtags that are popular in your niche.
The first key to promoting your business through the use of hashtags is to identify the tags that are already popular within your community and post to them, putting your message in front of everyone who follows that hashtag.
To do this, navigate to a hashtag directory like Tagdef.com, which allows you to search for the meaning behind existing hashtags you may have seen on your followers' Tweets, identify trending hashtags and locate the hashtags that are already popular in your industry. For example, entering the search phrase “SEO” on this site turns up a number of already-existing hashtags that cater to this community, including #seo, #sem and #seohop.
Once you’ve identified these niche hashtags, observe them for a few days to get a feel for the types of posts that are shared to them. If most Tweets using the hashtag are funny jokes or observations, mimic this style instead of coming in with self-promotional messages in order to build your company’s reputation in a positive manner. If you see people asking lots of questions, answer them with the hashtag threaded in your response to increase your perceived authority.
Strategy #2 – Post to trending hashtags.
Utilizing trending hashtags to promote your business is a little trickier, as most of these tags revolve around pop culture and celebrity topics. The last thing you want to do is to try to co-opt a trending tag with an overly aggressive, irrelevant post that’s forced in for the sole purpose of cashing in on a popular topic.
However, if you commit to monitoring trending hashtags on a regular basis (using a site like TagDef or other hashtag directories), you’ll likely come across at least a few that have some connection with your business. Getting in early on a trending topic can boost your exposure dramatically, which makes this effort worth some serious consideration if you’re hoping to significantly increase your Twitter following.
Strategy #3 – Create your own hashtags.
If you don’t find an existing hashtag to use to address your target community, why not create your own? This is easiest to do if you’re planning a major upcoming event or product launch (basically, something that people will be buzzing about anyways), but you can create hashtags just to share company or niche information as well.
For example, in the first strategy listed above, I mentioned the #seohop hashtag. In fact, SEOHOP is a company that uses a branded hashtag to disseminate messages to its followers in different ways. It can take more of an effort to gain traction with this strategy, though, so if you hope to introduce a new hashtag, you’ll need to be prepared to invest time in seeing that it’s used correctly and consistently.
Strategy #4 – Host a Twitter chat.
Twitter chats function like “old school” chat sessions, but instead of logging into a separate program that allows interested those who are interested in a common topic to communicate with one another, Twitter chatters use common hashtags to keep tabs on the conversation.
A good example of this is the weekly “#blogchat” which occurs every Sunday night. People who are interested in talking about the week’s topic post Tweets containing this tag and monitor others’ responses in real-time. This enables groups to quickly source information and answer questions efficiently by allowing for multiple viewpoints to be expressed at once.
If you’re new to Twitter, watching your first Twitter chat may seem overwhelming. With so many posts flying back and forth, it can be difficult to keep track of sub-threads within the conversation in order to figure out where to interject with your opinion. To participate in a Twitter chat effectively (which you’ll want to learn how to do before you consider launching your own chat), consider downloading a tool like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck, which will allow you to set up a separate column or feed for chat-specific hashtag posts. Separating your Twitter chats from your main feed should help to minimize confusion.
Once you’re feeling confident in your ability to participate in Twitter chats (and believe me, that won’t come right away), you can consider launching your own group Twitter session. Ask members of your industry what topics they’d be interested in hearing more about, choose the right hashtag for your new chat and share your subject and meeting times on Twitter chat directories.
Managing your own Twitter chat – as well as any of the strategies described above – will require some extra investment, but if you’re confident that you can convert your Twitter followers into prospects or buyers, dedicating time to expanding your following on the site using these techniques can pay off big for your business.