The domain of online marketing opens up a plethora of options and opportunities for brands to increase their reach. Savvy operators are always tapping into new trends and evolving their internal process to ensure that the competition does not score an easy leg up while they are resting on their laurels.
Hashtags are one example that feeds into this evolution, starting out as something of a nifty digital toy before enterprises suddenly realised the potential that it has.
Rather than existing solely as that little icon on the mobile phone that was pressed before listening to the voicemail inbox, it was a mode of syncing brand names and trending talking points where users could filter what they wanted to read, watch or listen to.
Having been a dominant presence in this environment for the best part of 6 years and counting, what is the relevance of the hashtag in the modern landscape? If Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn, Snapchat and others are continuing to build on its use, then why would we question its effect?
To give a comprehensive analysis of the hashtag, it is worthwhile noting why it sprung to popularity in the first place and why the social media giants continue to tap into it as a source for users to engage with.
Reach and relevance
Hashtags enable brands to place themselves firmly within their own niche to sit side by side with their peers. From accountancy firms to designer clothing stores and ice cream outlets – a thread of content can be enjoyed by users who are not after one specific brand name, but a product, service or past time.
Hence the desire from many marketers to join in a community that is awaiting new content and perhaps a fresh voice on a topic that might be dominated by the same old names. Momentum is built from industry-specific posts that incorporate a hashtag thread, although the reception and success rate will vary wildly depending on the timing, type of message and overall execution.
Should the hashtag use be complimentary to a direct and clever social media strategy with the target market in mind, then the opening phase of joining a community can begin the process of starting your own community.
Bondi Café Tokyo are a new member to the already crowded coffee and café market in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. They are an interesting case study as they have integrated their own communities via #bondicafe and #tokyocafe with more generic links including #specialtycoffee and #cafe to cater to current, local and potential consumers.
Whereas Twitter imposes character limits on hashtags to enforce a stricter protocol, sites like Facebook and Instagram are open to endless incorporations of names and phrases. These sites will also issue a headline snapshot, ensuring that feeds are not bombarded with paragraphs of hashtags, allowing companies to go above and beyond the call of duty.
So long as the message is consistent and a theme is established, then brands can garner a degree of brand loyalty and enhance their visibility. In other words, reach can be achieved when the hashtag is relevant to the niche.
Tapping into trends
The main asset of the hashtag is to discover hot topics that are making headlines and creating streams of conversation. Found in the “trending” sections of any Facebook, Twitter or Instagram tab, companies can engage with something like #FlashbackFriday to post content from years ago to contribute to the channel.
It is important though that the hashtag does not deviate too far from your niche. Attempting to elbow in on the trending action can create some really inappropriate scenarios and social media users are usually savvy enough to pick up on a cynical grab for attention.
This will come down to the instinct of the account holder and will test those operators who feel as though they can score a boost in traffic by incorporating their brand name into a trending topic.
There are software applications like Hashtagify and Trendsmap that marketers can utilise to identify trends and analyse performance. That in-depth degree of examination might be considered over the top for certain sized enterprises, yet others will see it as a means of improving rates of efficiency.
Tie-in brand content
To help the filtering process, hashtags are incredibly useful. For a brand like Murray Mowers, the link #murraymowers can give an up-to-date collage of article postings, video, images and marketing materials spread across different social media platforms.
There are key pillars in the domain of search engine optimisation that happens to overlap with hashtags. Businesses that are competing in the same niche can find joy leveraging each other’s consumer base and through a hashtag like #H2O or #SpringWater, companies that market a water service can find effective means of promoting their message to a wider audience.
Showcases authority and creativity
What should be put forward is the process of variety and creativity as a means of garnering a successful marketing campaign through hashtags. Churning out the exact same links hour by hour, day by day, week by week won’t create any enthusiasm from the consumer base and demonstrates to those current followers that the brand is employing a copy and paste artist rather than someone invested in genuine engagement.
This is not even a suggestion for the sake of the consumer, but for the social media platform itself. Continuing this lazy and predictable practice for long enough and often enough can put your account in the category of spam, forcing restrictions that could otherwise have easily been avoided.
Instagram case study
2018 has seen an interesting development occur in the world of hashtags courtesy of Instagram. Perhaps this change will be mirrored across the competing platforms or see a wave of new alterations to their processes. Either way, it is important to note that Instagram are not only continuing their use of hashtags, but are building on it.
Users on this site now have the ability to follow a hashtag in exactly the same manner as they are able to follow an account. This meant that users who are accustomed to finding #NRL, #BigBash, #ALeague or #AFL sports results or game day images can now have these posts as part of their regular feed, cutting out the process of venturing on a search for this content.
As mentioned earlier, Instagram was one of the first social media hubs to embrace the power of hashtags by illustrating to subscribers the volume of a particular link. For a café based right near the beach, they can tap into any of the following:
- #beach – 173 million posts
- #beachbody – 8 million posts
- #beachlife – 16 million posts
- #beachy – 593,000 posts
- #beaches – 2.4 million posts
Instagram then included a feature that allows users to eliminate various hashtags from their feed, titled: “Don’t Show for This Hashtag,” as a button.
If that wasn’t enough, their “Saved Caption” tool gives users the ability to revisit hashtags favoured in old searches and schedule at a later time. Marketers on Instagram champion this introduction and find it a helpful means of publishing content that might otherwise have been overlooked or forgotten.
Arguments against hashtags
By the time we reached 2013, the hashtag boom was reaching peak levels. What started out as a handy feature that worked to integrate posts on social media quickly evolved to be a pop culture phenomenon. All of a sudden television programs, sports events, marketing material and essentially any and every form of media was tapping into this trend.
The oversaturation could not be avoided and there were vocal quarters of the general public as well as business professionals who were decrying the use of hashtags as a cheap gimmick. It was argued that the tool had become a farce where there was little to no actual value to using it for a brand.
However, this was before Instagram’s system would give a guide on volume and Twitter would eventually make it integral to its own operating model. The underlying commentary still remains though, throwing doubt towards a practice that is cynically viewed as a means of being “cool” rather than actually incorporating a coherent strategy.
By 2018 this is an opinion that has been overshadowed by the continued use of the hashtag across all social media platforms, but it is worth noting that not all parties are onboard and eager to join in on the game.
There is a litany of examples of small to medium enterprises (SMEs) tapping their social media into trending hashtags and rather than garnering organic follows based on their contributions, they are followed by illegitimate bots who spam their feeds with unnecessary messages.
There is no argument to suggest that this is warranted, but the positives generally outweigh the negatives if hashtags are utilised properly.
The answer to the hashtag question is yes. In 2018, they remain a relevant marketing tool for individuals and operations to utilise if they are savvy enough to tap into the trends of the day and broadcast their message to that audience.
The questions about hashtag legitimacy appears to be arriving from quarters who are not educated on its power or ability to build genuine pathway engagements. Some companies and individuals will fall into the spam trap where subscribers and followers can be bombarded with hashtags that give them fatigue.
Like anything in the digital sphere and overlapping with online marketing, the strategy has to be executed well, executed consistently and with a target in mind. Should those boxes not be ticked, then of course this outlet will carry no value to your enterprise.
Kieran is the Social Media Manager and SEO Expert at SEO Shark. He is an expert in Social Media, link building, PPC and of course SEO. In his time off work Kieran enjoys reading and playing rugby, as well as following all kinds of sports! You can read some more of his articles here.