Whether you're browsing social media, attending a work conference, or watching reality TV, it's hard to miss the use of hashtags. While they might seem annoying or pointless at first glance, hashtags have actually proven to be a powerful tool for organizing thoughts, engaging your audience, and boosting your brand's awareness.
But, are hashtags for everyone? I'm sure you could find more than enough articles on the web that explain why your business simply can't thrive without embracing the hashtag. However, if you've never used a hashtag before or have some anxiety surrounding hashtag use, I strongly recommend that you don't jump on the hashtag train. Trust me, it can save you from some incredibly embarrassing situations. Here are some classic examples of hashtag use for business gone wrong and why you don't want to end up accidentally becoming that guy:
1. The Hijacked Hashtag
McDonald's is one of the most recognized brands in the world, and even this restaurant chain flopped horribly when it came to hashtag use. McDonald's created the hashtag campaign #McDStories in an effort to highlight the restaurant's suppliers and share positive stories.
Well, this hashtag quickly became a trending topic, but for all of the wrong reasons. Instead, people all over the web began using the hashtag to tell nightmare stories about the restaurant's food and repulsive dining experiences. Definitely not the PR that McDonald's was looking for, and certainly not a mistake you will want to make either.
2. The Not Researched Hashtag
One of the biggest rookie mistakes of hashtag use is to not research the hashtag (what it means, what people are saying about it, how it's being used, etc) before using it. This is especially true for those businesses that think they are coming up with their own custom hashtags. Not taking a few minutes to research a hashtag before using it can quickly paint your business in a bad light and potentially create a social media crisis. You work so hard to build your brand's image, and being careless with your hashtag use can be detrimental to your branding strategy.
There are several free resources to research hashtags, such as HashAtIt, Hashtags.org, and Keyhole. However, just because you did some research doesn't mean that it's a good idea to use it for your business if you're a hashtag newbie.
3. The Hashtag Overload
Once people get the hang of hashtagging, it can be extremely tempting to go a little overboard and use too many hashtags in a social media post. Using too many hashtags can not only be obnoxious, but completely distract your audience from the point you are trying to communicate on social media as well.
Is there a magic number of hashtags that you should aim for? That all depends on which social media channel you're using.
For example, hashtag use on Facebook is newer, so only using 1 to 2 hashtags is probably best. While the hashtag originated with Twitter, 2 hashtags seems to be the optimal number to use in a tweet. However, social media experts agree that using more hashtags is appropriate with a photo sharing social media site like Instagram where 11 hashtags is the magic number.
All in all, while hashtag use can offer your business a number of advantages, it's probably best to be left alone if hashtags are a new and unchartered territory for you.