By: Hillel Fuld (@hilzfuld)
Someone had to say it so I figure why not me. Not a day goes by in which I don’t see a so-called marketing expert overuse and even worse, misuse hashtags on the Web. It happens most often on Twitter but recently, both Facebook and Google+ started using hashtags as well, so the same principles apply there.
Let me break it down for you. In 99% of cases, hashtags are of no use to you. Yes, 99%. When are they useful? In two possible scenarios. There are, in fact, two different types of hashtags. There is the cute funny one, that just adds a nice humorous touch to your tweet. Something like “The guy sitting next to me is eating what might be the most beautiful steak I have ever seen! #Drooling”
That is the first type of tweet and if you are a professional marketer, that is less the kind you are going to leverage. The other kind, and read the following sentence five times, is intended to assist the searchability of your tweets, but that is only if, like the web, there is search volume.
In fact, I think the same mistake is made in the world of online search. People are often impressed when they rank number one on Google for a term such as the name of their company or even their own name. So to those people I say, sorry to burst your bubble, but it would require a whole lot of effort or a name like John Smith for you NOT to rank on top for your own name.
Except, here is the kicker. That search ranking will advance your goals in absolutely no way whatsoever. Why? Because unless you are a big brand or a well known personality, the search volume for that term is non-existent. In other words, it is great that you are ranking high for the name of your company “Rat traps in England that don’t have a Bad Smell Inc” but guess what, Einstein? No one is searching for that phrase so you will see a whopping zero entries to your site from search engines.
Now back to Twitter. Let’s say for a second you are a company that sells accessories for the iPhone and the name of your company is “iPhoneThingsRUs”. Your goal, like everyone else’s is to get noticed so you do what you were told to do and leverage hashtags so people will discover you in search. Except you do it completely wrong. This is what most people will write: “Check out the awesome iPhone accessories from #iPhoneThingsRUs!”
Great, so now when people search Twitter for iPhoneThingsRUs, they will find your tweet, click on the link, and buy your product? Yipeee. Oh wait. No one is searching Twitter for #iPhoneThingsRUs. Not one single person on planet earth. So, congratulations, you accomplished nothing. Well, not nothing, you did annoy your existing followers with a hashtag and a tweet that they might consider spam and basically betrayed their loyalty in you and your brand. Is that what you were going for? Yea, didn’t think so.
But, I am not just ranting, allow me to tell you what you SHOULD have done in that tweet, if in fact, this is your strategy, which by the way, is not a very good one… Here is the tweet that might actually get noticed on Twitter via search: “Check out the awesome #iPhone accessories from iPhoneThingsRUs.com.” Again, the tweet and the strategy are both spammy, but we are talking about hashtags here, so focus!
You see, there are many MANY people searching Twitter for the hashtag #iPhone (in fact, in this case, too many people are searching for it, so good luck standing out.) so that might be a word to hashtag in your tweet, not #iPhoneThingsRUs.
There is absolutely no point in hashtaging the name of a brand that no one is searching for on Twitter and in almost all cases, it would be more effective to mention the brand by tagging them, rather than hashtaging them. Why? At least that way they can get followers, people can go to their profile, and click through to their site. Hashtaging the name of the brand will do nothing, so just stop doing it.
The primary benefit of Twitter hashtags is for conferences or events. Let’s say you are attending The Mobile World Congress 2013. The organizers should let everyone know that the official hashtag is #MWC13 and that will enable anyone interested in updates on the conference to search Twitter for that hashtag. That is what hashtags are intended for and that is when they are most powerful.
While we are on the topic, there is one more thing you should take into account when using hasthags. Moderation, folks, everything in moderation. Please do not write a 20 word tweet with ten hashtags. Or five. I already hear the backlash on this point “There is no right way to do Twitter, stop with your made up rules!” Yes, yes, I can just tell you that including ten hashtags in your tweets is guaranteed to annoy people and even if you get a few followers from this strategy, they will leave as fast as they came.
Finally, and last but not least, do NOT use hashtags in your Twitter bio. Just don’t. Before you ask me why not, ask yourself, why yes. That is all.