A hashtag is a metadata tag that looks like a word (or a couple of unspaced words) prefixed with the # symbol that make posts more searchable by topic. Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Instagram, or Google Plus, hashtags are damn useful for pulling in casual on-topic interest or for generating community.
It could be being part of the conversation before or during an event. Listening in to specialists chats on niche topics from contributors all over the world. Being part of the local news. Talking with people watching the same TV programme. Hashtags are a marvellous tool for listening and getting involved, but, how do we know we’re using the right ones and not just “shouting at the mountain”?
Here’s a few tricks we use to make sure our message is going to the right people, and that the hashtags we use have the best possible value.
If you want to try this by hand it’s pretty simple but a bit hit and miss. For Twitter, head to the standard Twitter Search and look up the host, topic, or any of the participants you may know – you can also enter a hashtag into search to see the real-time tweets that are using that tag. Google Plus is predictive so once you start typing it’ll start making suggestions. Facebook is a tad fiddlier, but checking out the official pages of an event or topic will invariably shed some light on the matter. The basic rules work for everything: if it’s local use a local tag and stick to major topics e.g. #eastmidlands #nottingham or recognised niches like #ukbiz and #ukdesign. Unless it’s a specific tag for a specific event, e.g. #Sochi2014, #web25, or #budget2014, anything else is usually a waste of time.
There’s a plethora of tools out there for hashtag research. Most of these are subscription based as this is expensive on data and processing. Research by hand and eye isn’t always practical and not all players have the foresight to make sure their communities know the hashtag to use prior to the likes of an event.
My favourite research tool right now is ritetag.com. It sits quietly in my Chrome browser and works it magic when I need it to let me know if I’m using the right tags. Also, there’s a comprehensive database of active tags that I can search by topic for research purposes when I’m writing strategy documents. Here, for example, you can view results on local search for #Nottingham. and the same for #lovenotts, and the other tags that are being used along-side them.
If I need to keep an eye on a hashtag I personally like Hashtags.org, which is generally considered the leading service and directory of this kind. It maintains a large database of keywords used on Twitter, letting people analyse and track their popularity – when they released news of the Higgs-Boson I used the paid version of this on behalf of the Science and Technologies Faculties Council to track data on their own hashtag and the news release, and it was surprisingly robust.
If you’re creating your own hashtag the rules are pretty simple. Keep it short, unique, and conversational so that it will fit into the sentence flow nicely. Brainstorm some ideas, and settle on which seems the most natural.
Hashtags are also a tool for conversation and it may be that there’s people talking about your industry or topic right now, and this is a conversation you could dive into. For regular Twitter Chats try this handy online database to see if there are people talking about your topic on Twitter. It’s a great way to pick up more targeted followers and to reach out to your industry.
A little research is always worth doing. If you get this right hashtags can be a great conversation starter and really pull in genuine followers. With a little forethought hashtags can be a genuine boost to your social media presence, and once you find your local, topical, or niche tags for your social channels your on your way to being part of a much wider community and hitting a much wider audience.