The subject of hashtags comes up on every Twitter training course that I run. No surprise there, as the hashtag was invented and popularised by Twitter. And no surprise that despite being used almost everywhere, hashtags are still something of a mystery to many.
Hence the common question on my training courses: should I hashtag my business name? People are taken aback when my answer is ‘probably not’. There are much more effective ways of using hashtags. And if your business is small, as the vast majority are, using the name as a hashtag is pointless.
hashtagging your name won’t achieve anything
Let’s say that I start using my business name in tweets. I might tweet: “I’m preparing an article about using business names as hashtags #dorsetsocial”
The tweet already includes my business name, so what’s the point of repeating it as a hashtag? One answer might be that by using a hashtag I’m creating a theme that other people might be interested in.
After all, the real power of the hashtag is its ability to connect people around a single subject or idea. I’m writing this in mid-February, so a big theme on Twitter right now is #valentinesday.
Can I unlock some of this hashtag power around my business name? No, you can’t. The thing is, lots of people are interested in #valentinesday, which is why there are loads of tweets with that hashtag. And Instagram pics - the photo-sharing app is the other place where hashtags have become incredibly popular and useful.
The power of the hashtag is that when someone sees a tweet with #valentinesday, they may click or tap it to see what other people are sharing on the same theme.
But who’s going to follow the #dorsetsocial hashtag? Or the hashtag of your business name? Probably no one other than you (or me). And depending on the name of your business, the hashtag of its name may already be used in ways that are entirely unrelated to what you do. After all, no one ‘owns’ a hashtag.
connect with the power of the hashtag
So if using your business name as a hashtag is a non-starter, how can you make the hashtag work for you?
Let’s stick with the #valentinesday example. If you’re a florist, chocolatier or restaurant owner, or have some other product that you can tie in with February 14th celebration of love, use that hashtag in your posts where it’s relevant.
There will be people out there following the #valentinesday hashtag and by using it, you get your message in front of them.
But don’t expect using a very generic hashtag like #valentinesday to generate a flurry of interest. Loads of people are using it, meaning your posts will quickly get lost, and if your product is tied to a specific location (such as a restaurant) it will only be of interest to a local audience.
How to find the best hashtags
To really get results from hashtags, you want to find those that work well with your target market. These hashtags are usually specific to a particular area or a particular industry.
An example I often quote is #dorsethour. Every Monday evening, from 7.30pm, businesses across Dorset tweet about what they’re up to. Lots of people tune in by following the hashtag, leading to some great conversations. It’s a great way to make new contacts.
There are loads of other #hour hashtags, themed by county, city and industry. Likewise, there are loads of event hashtags you can use, such as #idealhomeshow or #wintec17 (the ‘official’ hashtag of the Women in Technology Scotland 2017 conference).
To look for a hashtag that’s associated with an event or activity, visit related Twitter profiles and see what hashtags people are using. Even where there’s an ‘official’ hashtag, people may adopt others in addition, or as alternatives.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to hashtags. That said, don’t overuse them on Twitter - one or two per tweet is usually enough. Instagram posts tend to have more, with a maximum of 30 permitted.