As someone who grew up in the midst of the social media revolution, I often take my understanding of social media for granted. I don’t need a briefing on Facebook or Twitter basics because I learned the important lessons the hard way: through years of trial and error.
However, you may not have been afforded the same period of experimentation. As a small or midsize business owner, you may be jumping into social media for the first time, and you don’t have the luxury of playing around for a few years — you need your marketing efforts to start working ASAP.
Today, I want to iterate a quick lesson on one easy, often misunderstood aspect of social media marketing — the hashtag.
I’m not going to go too in-depth here, but in short, a hashtag is created using the # symbol. It’s used on social media sites like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to designate key words or phrases in a post and make it easier users to find related content.
It’s best explained through an example: Say you’re watching the latest episode of ABC’s “The Bachelor” and you want to share your thoughts about the episode via Twitter. With big shows like this, thousands of viewers take to the social platform and monitor relevant hashtags to connect with other fans.
So, you could use #TheBachelor to make it easier for other viewers to see your Tweet and engage with it. Alternatively, if you’re like me and tweet about content marketing a lot, you can use #contentmarketing to connect with other Twitter users who are interested in the topic. Make sense?
The purpose of hashtags is essentially to group together related content and make it easier for posts to be found by interested users. On the flip side, hashtags also allow you to find social media users who might be interested in your brand. It’s a beneficial tool for both parties.
Mistake #1: Vague Terms
With that said, I want to highlight two big mistakes that social media novices make when using hashtags. The first is using extremely generic phrases.
Say you post a picture of some great autumn foliage to Instagram. Your first instinct might be to use hashtags like #fall, #leaves or #autumn. While these are technically accurate, they’re vague, and that means there will be huge amounts of content associated with them. Case in point: More than 26 million posts on Instagram are labeled with #fall.
When you use vague hashtags, your content will likely get lost in the fray.
When you make this hashtag mistake, your content will likely get lost in the fray. Maybe one or two people will see your pic, but within a few minutes there will be hundreds of new posts that drown your great snapshot. A better plan? Get more specific. If you’re in New England, try #NewEnglandFall. This tag has just 13,000 posts on Instagram, which means searchers are much more likely to spot your stand-out shot.
Mistake #2: Hyper-specific Phrases
However, there’s such a thing as being too specific, and that’s the other big no-no when it comes to hashtags. Keep in mind that a hashtag is only useful if people think to search for it.
Hashtags like #LookHowCuteThisDogIs or #LocalBoutiquesAreTheBest are simply too specific to get much traction. No one is going to take the time to search that! You’re better off cutting it down to #CuteDog or #LocalBoutique if you want to get more viewers.
What it comes down to is that you have to strike the perfect balance between vague and specific when you’re creating hashtags. It’s a skill that comes with ample practice, but you can help yourself along by conducting hashtag research when you’re writing posts and tracking the success of your social media efforts to note which hashtags resonate with your audience and which fall flat.
Check back soon for more SMB-focused #SocialMediaMarketing tips — see what I did there?