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How Can Small Businesses Best Use Hashtags?

Hashtags for Small BusinessThis is a guest post by Megan Totka, Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com.

Hashtags are a cornerstone of social media. First utilized on Twitter in 2007 as a means of organizing tweets, hashtags have come to represent anything from the pulse of pop culture to the completely irreverent. With sites such as Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr further breeding the concept of “tagging,” and Facebook creeping closer towards utilizing hashtags themselves, it’s clear that tags are here to stay. In addition, the influx of mobile users today only adds to the popularity of the modern hashtag.

Internet marketers and big brands have been jumping on the bandwagon in order to leverage hashtags in their own marketing efforts. We’ve seen a huge influx of big brands using hashtags to create buzz or push a new product. It was difficult to get through a single commercial during this year’s Superbowl without some sort of corresponding tag for each ad.

Hashtags are challenging for marketers due to their seemingly random and spur-of-the moment nature, short lifespan and difficulty to control, and small businesses in particular face challenges when it comes to hashtags. How are SMBs to compete with big business when it comes to leveraging tags? Where’s the money? Are hashtags more trouble than they’re worth? It’s important to step carefully, but hashtags have certainly their place for small businesses looking to create a buzz.

What Are #BigBrands Doing?

Let’s first focus on what big businesses are doing. Today’s biggest brands are attaching a hashtag to just about every product launch. Movie trailers, fast food, you name it; if it’s out there, it has a tag. Hashtags provide a way for brands to gauge interest in what they’re pushing and examine the buzz accordingly.

An effective ad or commercial combined with an equally memorable hashtag can spark a sensation. Consider KFC’s recent “I Ate The Bones” (#iatethebones) promotion. The catchphrase has been used in their latest commercial campaign alongside the hashtag. In conjunction with a contest on their website, users are invited to submit their own photos and videos reacting to the campaign on Twitter through Vine and Instragram, coupled with the #iatethebones tag. The concept here is rather simple; KFC wants users to talk about the promotion, the commercials and also enter the contest. Through hashtags, they get the best of all three worlds.

Is the campaign a success? Difficult to say. True, users are utilizing the hashtag. With an estimated 1 in 100 tweets actually corresponding to KFC’s contest, however, it could be argued that a large chunk of the hashtag’s usage is white noise. This begs the question: if a hashtag is being used beyond its intended purpose, is it still good “press?”

The challenge for small businesses becomes clear when we look at how big brands use hashtags. Hashtags are not always easy to measure in terms of effective engagement. Tags are often short-lived, and a hashtag’s “owner” has almost no control over how it’s utilized.

Meeting the Hashtag Head On: Tips for the #SmallBiz

Find and Leverage Relevant Hashtags

Let’s consider a timely cost-effective approach for small businesses to handle hashtags. A brand could take advantage of a popular tag by either creating or finding a piece of unique content to correspond with that tag. For example, a business looking to take advantage of an #EarthDay tag could tweet a blog post concerning green office supplies or an equally topical article. An art-savvy business could examine similar tags to take pictures of their office or city’s skyline to correspond with a photograph tag on Tumblr or Instragram.

Attaching content to tags can quickly backfire if users feel that the content is overally promotional or even spammy, but if a marketer stays focused on relevant tags and provides meaningful content, it can quicly connect your business to new audiences. Tip: pay attention to the hashtags your customers are using and see if you find a pattern. Commonly used tags amongst your followers may represent opportunities for new content and engagement.

Hashtags? Newsjacking? Hashjacking?

A second approach, which requires a bit more attention to detail, is a modified form of newsjacking. Also known as “hashjacking,” businesses may look at trending topics and topical hashtags and then insert their own content or commentary depending on what’s being talked about. This is an effective way to get some short-term attention or buzz, although it may not represent the long-term engagement that most brands are searching for when it comes to small business social media. Again, the risk is that you insert yourself in a conversation in a way that feels spammy, or even entirely inappropriate–you don’t want to land on next year’s list of social media fails.  Make sure you first take the time to understand what a given hashtag conversation is about before you attach your brand and content to it.

The #BottomLine

Regardless of their viability for smaller brands, hashtags are here to stay. It’s important for small businesses to keep tagging it mind when it comes to their posts and potential engagement opportunities through social media.  As the social sphere continues to change, tags will continue to be part of the mix.

What’s your tagging strategy?

About the Author

Megan TotkaMegan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide.

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