If you watched the Super Bowl, you witnessed a new trend in social media that I believe will grow this year. We saw a switch from companies asking us to follow them to initiating engage- ment by suggesting hashtags for con- versations.
More than half of the commer- cials for the Super Bowl had specific hashtags and encouraged us to use them on Twitter. Some of the hashtags that appeared in this year’s Super Bowl commercials included:
• #betterwithmms – M&M’s Love Ballad commercial
• #braverywins – Audi’s Prom commercial
• #thekiss – GoDaddy’s crazy model vs. nerd kiss commercial
It’s a smart move because simply hav- ing a large number of fans or followers does not necessarily result in a high level of engagement. Those of us who have been doing this social networking thing for a while know that only a small portion of followers actually engage with you. Having a large number of fol- lowers looks good, but it is not a valid measurement of how successfully your message is spreading.
A social media hashtag is a word or phrase in a conversation that pro- vides a way of grouping messages to- gether. On Twitter, hashtags are easy to search because they’re clickable. When you click on them you see the group of all conversations that used the same hashtag. Hashtags are used on Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and countless others. Facebook, however, does not use hashtags. Some of the most popular hashtags include: #love, #cute, #happy, and #beautiful, but the most useful hashtags were created for a purpose, which is to start and track conversations.
The San Francisco Giants baseball team used the hashtag #BeatLA dur- ing its games against the LA Dodgers to get fans to start conversations about the game. I remember tweeting #BeatLA at least a dozen times during one of the Giants vs. Dodgers games I attended in the 2012 season. This gave the Giants an easy way to track who was talking about their brand. If the majority of the conversa- tions taking place about your business include the same hashtag, you can track performance much more eas- ily, too.
Reaching Critical Mass
Something becomes popu- lar because a large number of people have begun using it or discussing it all at the same time. It’s a lot harder to reach critical mass when your product, service or topic is segmented. Hashtags make it much easier for critical mass to be reached in social media conversa- tions. People use the hashtag because they want to be part of the conversa- tion. Because hashtags group the con- versations together it makes it much more likely that the topic will reach a critical mass than if these conversa- tions were taking place without some sort of unifying element.
I know that most of us small to medium business owners will never become a trending topic on Twitter and that is OK. Hashtags are not just for large events and conversations. Grouping is just as important for small conversations as it is for large conversations because it allows us to easily measure engagement. I often use hashtags to infuse my- self into existing conversations. If I am talking about my photography, I will use the hashtag #Photography or #WeddingPhotography. This will infuse me into a grouping of con- versations that have to do with pho- tography or wedding photography and sometimes results in retweets or new followers.
On Instagram, the popular photo sharing smart phone app, hashtags are used to include your photo into a group of other photos. For example, if I took a picture of a nice car I saw and used the hashtag #musclecar, it would group my photo along with other Instragram photos of muscle cars. If somebody was browsing the search results for #musclecar, they would see my photo. I have gained countless new followers by using hashtags. As you can see, hashtags work in different ways and have multiple uses. They help group conversations to- gether so you can track online engage- ment and they help with discovery by grouping conversations together. It’s a recent development that is gaining momentum fast.
Tips For Creating A Great Hashtag
Notice that all of the hashtags used by big media are simple. When you cre- ate a hashtag, make it easy to under- stand. All the letters and numbers in a hashtag have to be grouped together, once you add a space or a dash, the hashtag breaks. However, when you group some words together, it can inadvertently create other words, so you’ll want to avoid that.
As we move through 2013 we will see hashtags used more and more until social networks find a better way of measuring the engagement of conver- sations. Hashtags can be a part of any conversation, which is why they are so great.
If you represent a company, product or service, find a way to incorporate the hashtag into your conversations to build buzz and even suggest a hashtag for people to use when talking about your product or service. I can promise you that it will result in more follow- ers and increased reach.