Social media offers valuable opportunities to connect with your target audience in the places they spend their time.
Used well, your social media accounts give your audience the feeling that you “get” them and understand their world. They show that your brand is relevant and influential within your niche. And it can expose your content and your products to new segments of your target audience.
But used poorly, social media can cause brands more harm than good. Social media blunders are public (and often permanent), and consumers’ loyalty can shift quickly.
Whether you use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or another platform, hashtags represent one of the biggest—and underutilized—opportunities for brands to connect with their audiences. But hashtags are also difficult to use well.
To help you get the most from your social posts—and steer clear of the dangers—here are three tips for choosing hashtags.
1. Find the hashtags your audience uses
Every hashtag belongs to a community or a moment, and the people using it are drawn together by shared experiences, interests, and observations. If you want to use the right hashtags, start by finding the ones your target audience uses.
Within every niche, there are bound to be appropriate hashtags that describe your industry, product category, or the problems and aspirations your target audience shares. But for a hashtag to have any significant impact on your social media success, it has to either already be in use or have the potential for your audience to rally behind.
Brands with large audiences, brilliant ideas, or worthwhile contests can invent new hashtags that get their audience talking. But if you use a hashtag no one else is using and you aren’t putting in the effort to “make it a thing,” you run the risk of showing your target audience that you—and by extension, your product or service—simply aren’t relevant.
2. Choose the most-used variation
Some marketers recommend you use as many hashtags as possible to increase your exposure to the right people. Each hashtag exposes your post to a new pool of relevant people.
But if your social post ends with #run #running #runner #jogging #runningshoes #runningman #runningwoman, it doesn’t look like a brand trying to connect with their audience. It looks like spam.
You can certainly use multiple hashtags—especially if there are multiple ideas or sentiments you want to express—but you should limit yourself to one or two hashtags per concept in your post.
Before you settle on one, see what’s going on in each of the hashtags you could use. Which one do people use most frequently? Do they seem to have different purposes or audiences? Is one of them gaining more traction right now?
Instead of bogging down your post with dozens of hashtags, focus on the ones with the greatest potential—so it doesn’t look like you’re just shouting at whoever will listen.
3. Be relevant
Imagine you’re giving a toast at a wedding. You prepare your speech, get all dressed up, and head to the venue. But the building looks nothing like you expected. When you open the door, you discover that you’ve just walked into a comic-con, and everyone is wearing elaborate and vibrant costumes, dressed as their favorite superheroes or obscure characters from books, games, and movies.
And then you walk on stage, take the mic from the speaker, and give your toast.
That’s what it feels like when brands use inappropriate hashtags. It’s like walking into the wrong room and saying the wrong thing to the wrong people. It’s one of the most common mistakes brands make with hashtags. It typically happens because, in an effort to make the biggest impact, brands simply scroll through the trending hashtags until they find a combination of words they can tie into their brand.
DiGiorno has made some infamous hashtag blunders on Twitter by doing exactly this. And they got eviscerated for it.
Before you ever use a hashtag, be sure you read about how people are using it. Look through the posts. If it’s trending, find out why. Is it being used as part of an event? Is it a reaction to something that happened in the news? Is it part of a movement, or a larger conversation about something important?
If a hashtag is part of a conversation your brand is prepared to be part of, great. But while anyone can use hashtags, they’re not open invitations to say whatever you want. And people don’t take kindly to brands that try and hijack their conversations.
Don’t be afraid—just be thoughtful
It takes a little effort to use hashtags appropriately. And the stakes of using them wrong is enough to deter brands from ever trying them out. But especially if you don’t already have a huge following, and your audience is actively using hashtags to host conversations and express thoughts your brand can speak into, then hashtags represent a valuable opportunity to connect with new people. So try them!