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The Twitter hashtag and how to use it

This inside guide to the Twitter hashtag — and how to use it to market your business.

  • By: Graham Lee
  • Date: July 18, 2018
  • Posted in: Twitter
The Twitter hashtag and how to use it

Replies, mentions, retweets and direct messages are the main modes of interaction on Twitter, but there’s one more important method that’s invaluable for digital marketing — the hashtag.

Hashtags are used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet, and are most commonly used to categorise Tweets. Hashtags show up highlighted in Tweets, allowing users to click that hashtag and view a filtered timeline showing all the Tweets containing that hashtag.

You’ll find particular hashtags are rich sources of information – they can reveal new people you may wish to connect with, plus allow you to monitor Tweets related to your brand or products, giving you an idea about what’s happening and what people think of you.

One way to keep an eye on these hashtags is to perform a search and then bookmark the page. A better way is to use Twitter’s TweetDeck web app: just create a new column designed to show you the latest Tweets containing one or more specific hashtags.

More importantly, putting relevant hashtags in your own Tweet can help your business or brand too. You can use them to target your Tweet to a specific group of people, such as #Audi to target Audi drivers, or you can try and develop a unique, but memorable, hashtag to promote your own business and brand, then use your Tweets and profile to bring it to people’s attention, encouraging them to use that hashtag when talking about you.

Make use of hashtags

Adding hashtags to your Tweets is simple – simply precede the keyword in question with the hash (#) symbol, such as #SEO. While many people place hashtags at the ends of their Tweet, you can also use them in place of references – for example, “So I’m visiting #CityConvention2014 next week.”

Find trending hashtags

Adopting a scattergun approach to hashtags may yield some results, but ultimately you should start by building a collection of proven hashtags that are relevant to your business and which can help you quickly target the right people.

The obvious place to start is your own timeline and the “Trending Hashtags” box that appears under the “Who To Follow” box. These list hashtags that are currently popular and offer you two ways of filtering them to provide more useful suggestions: by region, or by tailoring them to your personal behaviour.

To make your choice, click the ‘Change’ button next to the headline box. You’ll see a list of nearby locations to choose from should you wish to view regional trends – click one of these, search for a location or click ‘Select your location’ to pick a specific country and region from a series of dropdown menus. Click ‘Done’ to make the switch.

To get non-regional, personalised trends based on your web visits and behaviour on Twitter, simply click the ‘Get tailored trends’ button and confirm your choice.

More ways to find the right hashtags for your business

  • Check other peoples’ hashtags: one effective way to narrow down which hashtags you should use is to see what other people in your field are using. You can find out the top 10 hashtags of any Twitter user for free using Tweetchup. Once signed in, select the ‘Profiles’ button on the left, type your target @username into the search box (it’s @richardbranson by default) and then scroll down to discover their 20 most-used hashtags (including the number of times each hashtag has been used).
  • See what’s trending: you’ll also want to find out which topics are trending in your industry, and thanks to me you can do this for free: simply type your keyword or terms into the ‘Search #tag’ box to immediately see the all-time top 10 hashtags related to your search. Just roll your mouse over one of the hashtags to view useful statistics about it.
  • Get free hashtag suggestions: another tool – TweetBinder – will take your choice of keyword(s) and search up to 2,000 Tweets for free (paid-for upgrades also available) before delivering a number of suggested hashtags. Click one to see what Tweets used it and check their relevancy to your own needs.
  • Is this hashtag popular: plug your hashtag into the ‘Search’ box at org and you can see how it’s performed over the past 24 hours, plus again view additional information such as prolific users of that hashtag as well as related Tweets.
  • Hashtags defined: pop along to #tagdef and you can get a detailed description for any hashtag you type into the search box.

Find new leads using hashtags

Hashtags can also help you track down people who could become prospective clients or customers. Start by searching for hashtags related to your business, such as products or your company name, and remember to try some common misspellings too to see if that produces any interesting leads. Next, widen the search to your competitors – again including misspellings – to see what those searches bring up.

What you’re hoping to find are conversations you can contribute to, including more generic ones related to your industry but not necessarily referencing you specifically. Try adding new search terms such as “help”, “problems”, “challenges” or “advice” to these hashtags to see if there are any questions or problems facing people you can answer in such a way as to turn them into potential clients of yours. And yes, you want to be slipping in your own brand hashtags as you ride to the rescue…

Hashtags can also be invaluable for live tweeting, when your tweets can snowball into every digital marketer’s dream — the viral tweet.

Live Tweeting

Twitter’s well-known for providing “live” commentary from its users during major newsworthy events, and it’s become equally popular with brands wishing to reach out to their audience too.

You can contribute to other events (such as the unveiling of a new iPhone) or set up your own, perhaps to announce the launch of a new product or simply offer a session to customers and clients to reach out with Q&As.

If you’re planning to participate in a live event, or set up one of your own, here are some tips to help you maximise your live Tweeting experience:

  • Provide advance notice: this gives those who have no interest in participating the opportunity to make other plans, such as muting your account temporarily.
  • Set up an event hashtag that’s unique to the event: and make sure it’s widely publicised on your site as well as Twitter and other social networks – this is a critical step as it allows you and your audience to monitor the live Event via a filtered timeline.
  • Take notes: make notes on paper as the event progresses, which will help you plan your Tweets better.
  • Limit your Tweets: don’t flood your followers’ timeline with posts – take a reasonable amount of time between them. This is doubly true if you’re Tweeting during someone else’s event – don’t report on everything, but focus on what really matters to your audience.
  • Describe what’s happening: paint a picture of what’s going on – photos are obviously a great (and quick) way to put your audience at the heart of the event. Also include relevant links.
  • Quote speakers: use quotes if you’re reporting a keynote or announcement at an event – it’s the quickest and most effective way to keep people in the loop and help them feel they’re part of what’s going on. Make sure you attribute these to the person saying them – use their Twitter @username if applicable so people can easily find out more about them.
  • Be prepared for anything: it’s important you stay cool and unflustered, however things turn out or whatever your audience Tweets back at you.
  • Get everyone onboard: depending on the scale of your event, make sure you have enough staff lined up to deal with the levels of interaction you’re likely to receive.
  • Engage with your audience: use Retweets, replies and follows to help further cement the bond with those following the event with you and to connect with others. Remember, if you don’t follow someone, they can’t DM you.
  • Use Storify: this allows you to create a story of the event after it’s finished, then add it to your site’s blog and Tweet the link a day later to allow those who missed the event to find out what happened. To help you put the story together, favourite those Tweets you might want to use as you see them appear in your timeline.
  • Make a List: Another pro tip is to make a Twitter List of the event’s attendees that allows others to refer back to it and stay connected going forward.

In our next post, we’ll look at how to build a following for your business on Twitter by connecting with your target audience.