As Twitter continues to grow, so does the use of hashtags (those keywords and concepts in tweets preceded by the # symbol). But hashtags can help or hurt your goal of maximum visibility for your tweets. A couple tips based on observation and some quick research:
- Use them judiciously
- Use them authentically
- Their use/misuse reflects favorably or unfavorably upon your brand
Using one or two hashtags is about the most you'll want to use in a tweet, if their use is warranted at all. Tweets using a particular hashtag are classified together in a list. Within Twitter, clicking on the hashtag produces a list of all posts across the site. Using 3 or more hashtags means your tweet will appear on more lists, however the overall power and focus of your message is diluted and your content will look like gobbledygook. Remember, hashtags eat into your 140 maximum character count. The more you tag a tweet, the less you can say in a tweet.
Hashtags make content easily findable on Twitter, but for a relatively short period of time - which varies depending on a number of factors. This time-limited aspect means that hashtags are terrifically useful for current events - unusual weather events, breaking news, sports scores, product releases, conferences, etc.
Hashtags can be used as means of appearing on "trending" topics lists that exist to attract followers to content. For example, trending topics which appeared within the last week or so were: #thestorybehindmyscar, #mycatisajerk. As you will guess from these examples, a hashtag such as #softpaywalls (based on an actual recent InfoCommerce tweet), will never make a trending topics list. Which is to say, when it comes to social media for business, trending topics lists are generally irrelevant.
Hashtagging broad terms is not helpful either. Hashtags for generic words like #marketing, #money, #music, #internet, #ecommerce, etc. are nearly useless because the topics are so broad and so often referenced that they don't appreciably improve searchability. In this instance, hashtags mostly just gunk up a message and create the impression that the writer doesn't understand the concept of hashtags or the platform itself.
Sometimes hashtags are the rough equivalent to saying "like" or "ummm" when you speak. They seldom add to the readers understanding and reflect poorly on the writer.
Search engines being what they are - operating on ever-changing rules and keen on sniffing out baddies - are more likely to push heavily hashtagged content lower on search results pages because it has the look and feel of stuffing. "Stuffing" - in not terribly sophisticated or technical terms - is loading your message with unnecessary words in hopes one of them will trend and help your content be found. Generally, stuffing is something that: 1) people who don't know what they are doing do, and 2) something unscrupulous people do.
Finally, hashtagged posts are not necessarily read more often than posts without hashtags. Social media software provider Argyle Social researched hashtags and developed some interesting insights into their effectiveness. It is worth reading in full, but here are some key summary points:
- In 53% of the social properties analyzed, posts with hashtags actually performed worse than posts without hashtags.
- In 21%, there was no significant difference between posts with and without hashtags. And 26% of social properties had better performance in posts with hashtags.
- When averaging across the entire sample, posts with hashtags received 5% fewer clicks than posts without hashtags.
Argyle's summary conclusion of its research is one that I agree with as it relates to hashtags in any sense: Your followers are your primary source of attention. Tweets should be targeted at providing value to your existing followers, as they are the most likely to read and share your content.
-- Nancy Ciliberti