Along with ‘tweet-up’, ‘@reply’ and ‘DM’, the term ‘hashtag’ has now entered the vernacular of switched-on technophiles and savvy social marketers worldwide. But since its inception, the concept behind the term has evolved with alarming alacrity, meaning the humble hashtag is now a complicated Social Media construct in its own right.
Here are a few of the current uses – and misuses – that I have encountered over the previous 12 months.
Effectively, this is the base use for hashtags. By prefixing a word with a # symbol, Twitter turns this word into a hyperlink, thus allowing users to click this and see all status updates containing the same hashtag. This has multiple uses, but from a search marketing perspective, increases the potential of your tweet being seen by a wider audience. If you have 250 followers and tweet something containing ‘discount vouchers’, this may well be seen by 250 people and any followers that they RT it to. Insert the phrase as #DiscountVouchers and your reach is exponentially increased.
Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for this rather superb moniker, which was coined by Abi Signorelli following an engaging discussion at Courtenay HR’s latest Connecting HR networking event. The premise of hashtag bandits is simple: communities that use a certain hashtag to communicate with each other, in this case, #ConnectingHR, have their conversations infiltrated by people loosely connecting themselves with the aforementioned community.
The ‘#ConnectingHR’ community is around 4 months old, yet we are seeing an increasing number of HR bloggers inserting the hashtag into their posts in order to obtain more readership. Whilst this is a useful way to grow an online community organically, problems can arise when those using the hashtag community are not adding value to members of the group and using the channel purely as a method of one-way promotion rather than two-way conversation.
If you work in Social Media and digital marketing, you’ll no doubt have heard ‘buzz’ cited as one of the latest emerging trends. With the glut of Social Media now at marketers’ disposal, ‘seeding’ and ‘buzz monitoring’ have become full-time jobs in their own right.
Due to their natural searchability, hashtags have become an excellent PR tool and one that is easy for communications professionals to use effectively – events are an excellent case in point. I have attended 3 different tradeshows / ‘events’ this year, and each have benefited from significant free publicity through Twitter, the adoption of a hashtag creating credible ‘online buzz’.
These have included the Internet World Show (#IWEXPO), the aforementioned Connecting HR (#ConnectingHR) and most recently, Marketing Week Live (#MWL2010). Attendees employ these hashtags in their tweets in order to ‘be part’ of the community and get involved – and of course, this is self-fulfilling PR for the organisers of these events.
In a similar vein to PR, many global brands are using hashtags to incorporate both PR and marketing activity. ‘Tweet #XXX to win an XXX’ are becoming very much ‘de rigueur’ and many people are willing to compose a tweet in 15 seconds for a chance to win, say, an iPad.
Again, this generates huge free publicity for the brand in question, with the nominal cost of a prize resulting in thousands upon thousands of tweets pertaining to YOUR brand / business / company / event.
One of the last key uses of hashtags that I have noticed has been that of humour. From self-deprecating to witty, hilarious to subtle, many of the people I follow use hashtags as a humorous quip to end a personal tweet.
To illustrate this with a fictitious example: “Not feeling good this morning #wishihadnthadthatlastdrink”. Now obviously, if one was to search for other people that had constructed the hashtag ‘#wishihadnthadthatlastdrink’, the results would in all likelihood, be none. The reason for writing a hashtag like this has been transformed from a functional construct to that of an ironic quip. By the fact that common hashtags have such reach, obscure hashtags are constructed knowingly as a socially humorous construct.
These are, what I consider to be, some of the most prominent uses of hashtags currently in operation in the Social Media space today. If anyone can think of any more, or has anything to expand upon, please add your comments to this post!