If there's one aspect of Twitter that confuses people more than any other (aside from, well, Twitter itself), it's gotta be hashtags. At least once a week I'll get a call from a client who wants to know what "that pound-sign thingy" on their conference invitation is and why they should care.
OK, so, lemme 'splain ... no, is too much. Lemme sum up.
What Hashtags Do
I can sum up what hashtags do in one word: nothing.
That's right, a hashtag doesn't actually do anything. It's a tag, a badge, a label, a whatzit that acts as shorthand for "this post is about x."
Let's say, for example, that you've been invited to attend this year's Real Men and Women of Genius conference (sponsored by Bud Light, natch). And at the ve-e-ery bottom of your invitation, you see something along the lines of "Tweet about this event with the hashtag #rmawog."
Curious, you hop onto Twitter (or your app of choice) and do a search for #rmawog. The resulting page reveals every tweet that's been posted using that hashtag. As you scroll down, you begin to realize that this search is looking an awful lot like something you've seen before ... a chatroom, maybe?
Congratulations! You've just unlocked the hashtag's secret superpower: offering a means for multiple people tweeting about the same topic to view and react to each other's tweets. And not just for in-person, live events.
How To "Do Hashtags"
So, let's say, for example, that you're redesigning your Super Whizbang Widget and want to know which features your customers want. Hashtags to the rescue!
The good news is, there's no official process for creating a hashtag ... but picking the right one can be a bit tricky. A good hashtag should portray three qualities:
- It's descriptive: Your hashtag of choice should make sense for what you're trying to accomplish, whether that's generating buzz for an event or collecting opinions on the NBA lockout. In the case of the product redesign in our example, you might want to use something like #SWWredesign.
- It's short: Remember, your hashtag will be a part of your 140-character allocation for every tweet, so you want to conserve real estate as much as possible. Plus, you want to make it easy to remember. At a relatively slim 12 characters, #SWWredesign will likely work just fine.
- It's unique: As you kick around ideas, make sure to search each hashtag to make sure it's not "taken" by someone else. Looks like a search for #SWWredesign yields no results, so you're good to go.
OK, Now What?
So, you've selected your hashtag and you're ready to roll. Of course, a hashtag is only as good as the use it gets, so get the word out to your customers. You can do this through:
- Twitter: "Chime in about our new Super Whizbang Widget with the hashtag #swwredesign" (hashtags aren't case-sensitive, so no need to worry about caps-vs-lower-case)
- Facebook: "On Twitter? We want your opinions about the new Super Whizbang Widget! Tweet about it with the hashtag #swwredesign."
- PowerPoint Presentations: Mention the hashtag at the beginning of the presentation and include it on each slide.
- Email: Mention the hashtag in your email newsletter and issue the call for tweets.
- In Print and In Person: Add your hashtag to related posters, flyers, postcards, and other print materials ... and mention it in your personal conversations with customers.
Track the Results
Don't forget to do a daily search for your hashtag to see who's using it and what they're saying! If you find activity starting to wane, maybe it's time for a reminder.
Handle With Care
OK, grasshopper, I've given you a powerful tool, and I want something in return. Raise your right hand.
No, really, raise it.
And repeat after me: "I will only use my hashtag powers for good, never evil."
Very good. So why the oath? Because some very major brands have gotten into some very big trouble by offending the hashtag gods. Two recent examples:
- As anti-government protests rocked Cairo back in February 2011, shoe designer Kenneth Cole posted the unfortunate tweet "Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online." Tweeters searching the hashtag for updates on the escalating violence were appalled at Cole's apparent callousness, and the designer took a pounding in the Twittersphere.
- On the day the Casey Anthony verdict was announced, a horrified public took to Twitter with the hashtag #notguilty to vent its frustration. The same day, snack food brand Entenmann's tried to get cute with "Who's #notguilty about eating all the tasty treats they want?" The public was not amused.
I hope I've been able to shed a little light on the power of hashtags and how they can help pump up your promotions for events, product launches, and just about anything else.
Any questions? Tweet me ... and try using a hashtag while you're at it :-)