The Myth of the Magic Hashtag

When I’m consulting on a marketing campaign or program and Twitter is one of the channels we’re utilizing, inevitably there’s at least one person in the room who is very concerned about hashtags. What hashtags they should be using in general or what hashtag should be for a particular campaign or event.

Here’s how I break down the hashtag discussion to keep strategy conversations on track.It’s one of those social media artifacts that often gets way too much emphasis (like retweets) because it’s something that folks who don’t do this stuff every day can point to as a “best practice” or strategy. But the reality is that there is no hashtag you can use three times, click your heels, and land in that fertile country known as Brand Bliss. Hashtags are not magic and they will not make or break a campaign or overall program.

The hashtag as a topic indexing tool is useless

Not that I position that statement exactly like that to clients, but that’s the general message. This gets to the first question of “what hashtags should we be including in our everyday tweeting.” My answer to that is almost always zero.  If you’re just hashtagging topics like #mobile or #B2B or #London, the sheer volume of those topics obliterates any kind of context that hashtag would have.  Even if someone did have a saved search of “#mobile” in one of their Hootsuite streams, the likelihood of that person honing in on your tweet is severely diminished by the amount and speed of the new content rushing by.

If you’re concerned about search on Twitter, hashtags don’t matter much there either. A search for “#mobile” and “mobile” brings up the same results. #Endofconversation.

Topic Filtering on LinkedIn and Google+

However, I do find topic hashtags much more useful on platforms like LinkedIn and Google+ . This may be a function of post volume (much less on those platforms). But I think it’s also a function that the context those platforms provide as well. With LinkedIn you can filter your results very granularly (look for a post about this soon) and Google+ offers the ability to filter by post type, contact type, or location.  This added context makes the information made available by topic indexing much more valuable.

Hashtags as a breadcrumb trail

Hashtagging may be a poor indexing strategy on Twitter, but it is an effective breadcrumb trail for conversations and events.  Why? It’s a real time filtering method for conversations about a specific topic at a specific time. These type of hashtags are kind of like tissues—-really useful for the time that you need them, but then you throw them away.  And what the hashtag is is less important than actually having one—-within reason.  A few quick tips for choosing an event or chat hashtag:

  1. The fewer characters the better
  2. Make it easy to remember (e.g., use your event’s initials)
  3. Make sure it doesn’t look weird (e.g. too many of the same letters in a row)

And you don’t need to “ask” anyone if it’s okay to use that hashtag. Make one up and do a search to see if anyone else is using it. If it’s not popular (say 25 tweets or less) and if it’s not an abbreviation of some weird thing kids are doing nowadays, go for it. Basta.

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