Hashtag is the trendy name on the web. Everybody knows what is a Hashtag by now, or at least has seen them and pronounced 'pound' or 'number sign'. The reality is that they have invaded our daily life, exposing themselves on every support imaginable, from brochures to t-shirts. But what do they really mean and how can they be used efficiently?
First of all a little history of the hashtag. They started on internet relay chats to characterize groups communication, and they inspired Chris Messina, who proposed the system to Twitter in 2007 (he posted the first hashtag, at the time it was still called pound sign). Then this practice picked up on Twitter, who started turning them in hyperlinks in July 2009 (source: wikipedia) . They are commonly used to describe the category where the Tweet belongs. They became so popular that most of the Social Media adopted them. So popular that some people find them annoying, and a lot of people are using them the wrong way.
OK, if so many people use them the wrong way, how should they be used? We can start by saying that they need to be used with caution, because they are the most viral tool you can have, and the smallest error or miscalculation can ruin the credibility of a company, or at least make a campaign inefficient. Some examples of big hashtag failures (source hashtag.org):
The hashtag initiated by the PR team of the British singer Susan Boyle... It failed, and everybody can see why.
Created in the beginning to give the opportunity to loyal customers of McDonald to share a good memory, a nice meal at the famous restaurant chain turned into a case study of what can go wrong with an hashtag campaign. Instead, people started sharing bad memories and the campaign ended up being a festival anti-McDonald testimonials.
But if they are so dangerous, what's the point of using them? Hashtags are the best way to search something on social media. They are a classification method that allows you to send your content in a specified category. Hashtags are the keywords of social media and need to be treated as such. Search engines are now accepting hashtags as search keywords and Google results often show in first-page Google+ pages marked with hashtags. Furthermore, most of social media websites used them, such as Pinterest, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, and using hashtags on these pages will increase the ranking of your pages.
In today's world, hashtags are not limited to social media anymore and appear on a lot of promotional material. The first thing if you want to use hashtags efficiently is to use them to facilitate the search of your topics. Use hashtags to make sure you stay in the stream of information your product or your company belongs to.
Second comes the engagement. Hashtags are the best way for you to see what is trendy, that people are talking about and join the new trends to get visibility.They can be used for punctual trends as well as seasonal trends. For example, if you are a merchant specializing in electronics, it will be wise to use #blackfriday at the end of November. Other kinds of events can call for hashtags: the breaking news, the big punctual event that won't last but that is very popular right now. Use hashtags to engage people following these trends. It will create an opportunity for you to gain followers and improve your visibility.
Last but not least, hashtags are very powerful promotional tools for a campaign. If you are organizing a contest to promote your brand on social media, the hashtag is your best friend. Choose wisely (for obvious reasons) the hashtag you will use. It needs to be fun and engaging so people get the will to share it. Of course the rest of the contest needs to be as good as your hashtag to make the operation a success. In a new trend, companies decide to advertise their hashtags outside of the social media, in order to drive traffic from traditional media (t-shirts, billboards, etc.) to social media. The new campaign for Samsung is a good example. The goal here is clearly to bring traffic to social media to create a community around the project Galaxy 11.
So to summarize, hashtags are part and parcel of pop culture. There is no social media advertising without hashtags. But hashtags remain a dangerous tool that can go viral very quickly and produce the opposite effect of what was intended. So choose carefully, follow the main trends, be the first on new trends, and take it EZ.