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Should I hashtag the name of my business?

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.

Tools you can use to search for hashtags include: Hashtagify, Ritetag and Tagboard.

Choosing a hashtag - infographic

A couple of years ago Twitter published a handy guide that explained how to choose a hashtag. I came across this guide the other day and the principles are still very relevant. And I know there are plenty of people who still aren't sure about how to make a hashtag work.

So here's that guide for you.

You may also want to read my post on how to use a hashtag.

How to choose a hashtag infographic

This infographic was originally posted by Twitter. You can view it on the Twitter blog here.

How to use a hashtag

Every time I run a Twitter training course, I wonder how long it will be before someone asks the hashtag question. It usually arrives in the first 30 minutes: “So how do those hashtag things actually work?”

That one question opens the door to a flurry of others around the hashtag subject. So here are some answers, which I hope you will find useful.

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What is a hashtag?

A hashtag is a string of characters prefixed with the # symbol. The characters might be:

  • A word: #Dorset
  • A phrase: #2minutebeachclean
  • An event: #seafoodfestival
  • An abbreviation: #smdublin2016 (used for a social media conference in Dublin, early 2016)

When it’s used on a social media network, such as Twitter, a hashtag becomes a clickable link. So if you see a tweet with the hashtag #sunset and click on the hashtag, you’re shown other tweets and pictures that also contain the hashtag #sunset.

Sunset

 

The tweets you’re shown can come from anywhere in the world and the hashtag #sunset could be used in varying contexts. The only thing these tweets have in common is the #sunset hashtag. So you can see the hashtag is simply a way of grouping messages together, based on that specific piece of information.

Hashtags originated on Twitter and have been adopted by other networks including Facebook, Google+ and Instagram.

Note that there are no spaces in a hashtag. For a hashtag to work, it must be an unbroken string of characters. So #partyinthepark works and  ‘#party in the park’ does not. You can use underscores as characters, so #party_in_the_park would work (although that’s quite long for a hashtag).

What’s the point of a hashtag?

The power of the hashtag lies in its ability to connect messages on a common subject and thereby connect people with common interests. When you click on a hashtag, you see posts from others talking about the same subject. This can help you make new connections and grow your network of contacts. Or allow you to join in online conversations.

Media organisations and others use hashtags to track messages relating to specific events. When a major news story breaks, people start talking about it on social media and begin using hashtags, which helps others to follow or comment on what’s going on.

Brands use hashtags to stimulate conversations, often asking people to use a specific hashtag in order to be entered into a competition.

Another way to think of a hashtag is as a way of creating an interest group or an online community. Some come and go quickly; others stay around for a long time. Every week, at around 7.30pm on a Monday, lots of people in Dorset start tweeting using the hashtag #dorsethour. They gather for an hour of online chat or networking, using the #dorsethour hashtag to connect them.

Instagram posts typically use lots of hashtags, such as the one below.

INS

Who sets up a hashtag?

You create a hashtag simply by putting the # symbol in front of a word, phrase or abbreviation. No one ‘owns’ or controls a hashtag, although the usual rules around trademarks still apply.

Should I use a hashtag for my business?

In my training classes, the hashtag discussion often prompts someone to suggest using their business name as a hashtag in all their posts. Such as #gerbilcomputers (that’s a made-up name, by the way).

I don’t recommend this for small businesses because who else, other than you, is likely to use that hashtag? When people talk about you on social media, you want them to mention your account name, as that increases the chances of getting more followers and mentions.

The tweet: “I bought a great new laptop today from @gerbilcomputers” would be more effective than: “I bought a great new laptop today from #gerbilcomputers.” Why? Because if someone clicks on @gerbilcomputers they're taken to the Twitter account for that business and could choose to follow it. If they click on #gerbilcomputers they'll see other tweets using that hashtag, if there are any, which is unlikely given that it's not a major brand.

However, brand hashtags do work, where an organisation already has an established presence in their market.

How should my business use hashtags?

There are lots of ways that hashtags can benefit your business. These include:

  1. Following or joining in discussions relevant to your area or industry. For example, as mentioned above, every week, between 7.30pm and 8.30pm, small businesses in Dorset hold a virtual networking session on Twitter, using the hashtag #dorsethour.

There are lots of similar virtual gatherings using hashtags including #yorkshirehour, #weddinghour, and #charityhour. These can be a great way of making new contacts or hearing the latest news in your area or business sector.

  1. Listen in on an industry event without being there. Most conference or event organisers now promote a preferred hashtag for people to use when talking about the event.

The hashtag I used above, #smdublin2016, was for a conference about social media. By looking at the tweets using that hashtag, I can see comments from people who were there or others interested in the conference. This can help me to join in conversations on subjects of interest to me and also find new people who it could be useful to follow.

  1. Using hashtags to promote a specific campaign. It might be a sale, a promotion of a specific product or a focus on a specific issue. Choose a hashtag that you plan to use in every message relating to the campaign and watch how it gets retweeted or reused by others.

One of the hashtags regularly employed by Sainsbury’s in the last few months is #LittleTwists. It’s appeared in lots of tweets offering a new take on recipes. Lots of their customers have picked up on it and use the hashtag in their own tweets.

Hashtags can be a great way of tracking the spread of your message across social media channels.

Sainsbury

  1. Take advantage of trending hashtags

If you take a look at what’s trending on social media, you’ll spot a variety of hashtags. For example, as I write this, the top Twitter trends for the UK are #Illneverbetooldto and #LondonTomorrow.

Resist the temptation to use the top trending hashtags in your social posts in the hope of getting noticed. That is, unless those hashtags relate directly to the message you want to put out.

For example, hashtags relating to major sporting events will be in the top ten trends and these may fit easily into your social posts.

Did you know that on Twitter you can choose to view trends at a global, national or even regional level? Just click on ‘Change’ where the trends are displayed.

Trends

What are the risks of using hashtags?

This question is rarely asked in my social media training sessions, but it should still be addressed.

Sometimes hashtag campaigns backfire. This is typically a problem for larger brands, as McDonald’s discovered in 2012. They launched a #McDstories hashtag, as a marketing campaign talking about the people who produce their products. Unfortunately, lots of dissatisfied customers began sharing their own, less positive, #McDstories. Within two hours they had stopped using it, but they couldn’t kill the hashtag. It’s still being used today.

Hashtags can be hijacked deliberately or accidentally. While Sainsbury’s are making good use of the #LittleTwists hashtag as I write this article, they can’t prevent other people using it for entirely different purposes.

Conflicting uses of a hashtag are hard to avoid. When choosing a hashtag for a campaign or event, check who else may already be using it, to reduce the risk of your message getting lost or becoming associated with something entirely unrelated to your business.

How do I learn to use hashtags?

As with so much about social media, a great way to learn is by watching what others do and then by having a go yourself to see what happens.

If you still have a question about using hashtags, please ask me. Email andrew@dorsetsocial.co.uk or reach me through Twitter (@dorset_social) or Facebook .

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How to use Twitter lists

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How to use Twitter lists
how-to-use-twitter-lists

Is your Twitter timeline so busy that it’s sometimes hard to spot the tweets from the people you really want to hear from? Do you wish there was an easy way to find and follow particular types of Twitter user, such as those offering a similar service, or are based in the same area?

Twitter lists can solve both of these problems for you, and more besides. Lists are an underappreciated feature of Twitter. They’re simple to use yet can be extremely powerful. Let’s explore what lists are and how to use them...

What is a Twitter list?

A Twitter list is nothing more than a list of Twitter users. These lists can be surprisingly useful.

Let’s say you’re planning a wedding and you want to keep track of various wedding suppliers on Twitter. You create a list called ‘Wedding Suppliers’ and then add each tweeter to it. Now you’ve made it really easy to find all those wedding-oriented Twitter accounts.

When you create a list, you can choose whether to make it private or public. A private list can only be viewed by you, while a public list is accessible by anyone. When you visit someone’s Twitter profile, you can choose to view their public lists.

Lists1
Lists1

A Twitter list is a filter

You have three options when viewing a list. You can choose to view:

  • Twitter accounts on the list (List Members)
  • Tweets from accounts on the list
  • Accounts that have subscribed to your list, if it’s public

The second of these three, tweets from accounts on the list, is where the list acts as a filter.

Are there people whose tweets you don’t want to miss? Put them in a list called ‘My top tweeters’ or something like that, and then choose to view just the tweets from people in that list. You’ve effectively got a timeline containing just the tweets from those people, excluding everyone else you follow.

When you’re following thousands of Twitter accounts, using lists helps you to find the tweets you don’t want to miss. I know some Twitter users who do follow thousands and they never look at their main timeline - they use their lists to control the number of tweets they see.

twitter-lists-for-business

 

Subscribing to a Twitter list

People can subscribe to a public list created by someone else, meaning they can also use that list as a filter. Subscribing to someone else’s list also lets you create what’s effectively a list of lists.

You can see who else has subscribed to a list, either one of yours or a list set up by someone else.

How to add someone to a Twitter list

List2
List2

It’s really easy. When you’re looking at their Twitter profile page, use the menu option or user action and choose ‘Add to List’. Then select which list you want to add them to.

You can’t add someone to a list set up by another Twitter user.

When you add someone to a public list, they receive a notification.

Removing someone from a list is also really easy when you’re using Twitter in a browser, such as from a laptop or desktop.

Have you been added to any Twitter lists? There is no way of knowing whether you’re on a private list, but in the lists area of your Twitter profile you can see which lists you’ve been made a member of (added to).

No follow required

Want to keep an eye on your competitors’ tweets without actually following them? That’s simple - just create a private list and add them to it. They’ll never know, and in the same way, you don’t know whose private lists you are on!

You can add people to lists without following them, and you can subscribe to lists set up by people you don’t follow.

The only way to stop someone adding you to a list is to block them.

What you can’t do with a Twitter list

You can’t send a tweet to just to people on a Twitter list. Lists are not a way to facilitate group discussions, whether private or public. Nor can you add yourself to a list set up by someone else - except by asking them.

The only way to remove yourself from someone’s list is by blocking them, or again, by asking.

You can take advantage of the Twitter list function

Here are some of the ways that you can use Twitter lists to your advantage:

  • Filter out all the background noise and focus on just the tweets you want to read.
  • Keep an eye on tweets from your competitors or others in your industry.
  • Create lists that are useful for others and promote them.
  • Get people’s attention by adding them to a list.

Twitter lists can be a useful way to find other Twitter users to follow. Let’s say you want to follow Twitter accounts in Dorset that provide services associated with weddings - click through here and you’ll see that I’ve already made a list for you. Lists made by other Twitter users may be equally useful. Unfortunately, there is no way of searching for lists within Twitter.

List3
List3

Ideas for Twitter lists you might want to set up:

  • Current suppliers
  • Potential future suppliers and freelancers
  • People who often retweet you
  • Important sources of information for your industry
  • Organisations you’re targeting as potential customers
  • Your employees
how-to-use-twitter-lists-vertical

Used well, Twitter lists can be hugely powerful, giving you much more control over your Twitter experience. They can also reinforce your position as an influencer in your particular sector.

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