June 23

#Hashtags: Your Social Media Secret Weapon


Your Social Media Campaigns May Be Missing Out

Our most recent social media blog included several comments on LinkedIn regarding hashtags. Retired educator Joan Gustafson started the comment discussion by asking: “Still not sure about using hashtags….I “get” it and know why people use them…but do people really “search” for info using hashtags? #notsureabouthashtags #whynotsearchgoogleratherthashtags #andIthoughtIwasdonewithhashtags :)”

Others echoed the sentiment of “do we really need them?” and “unclear about hashtags.”

I wanted to write a blog post focused on getting to the bottom of why and how to use them.

A few years ago, my wife and I took our family to Disney World for the first time. Upon arrival, we registered and each of us received a large button that proclaimed “1st Visit” surrounded by Mickey, Pluto, Goofy, and Donald Duck. Our family was so excited we promptly pinned those on and set out. At the time, I didn’t think much about it, but throughout our week-long visit, it was the beacon that got us noticed. Whenever waiting for attractions or walking down the streets, characters, “cast members” (Disney’s word for employees) and others would seem to go out of their way to ask us if we were having an enjoyable time and if we needed anything. Only later did I realize that simple button was the signal to others to engage in an intentional way with my family.

Just as Disney uses the power of a button to encourage engagement with the right audience, your social media strategy can do the same. Rather than a button to wear on your apparel, you have the power of the hashtag to get you and your message noticed.

Hashtags Defined

According to Twitter, a hashtag is “any word or phrase with the # symbol immediately in front of it.” Hashtags were created organically by Twitter users as a means to organize the vast amount of content flowing through the social media channel. Hashtags also make it easier to follow a conversation about a particular topic or find a topic based upon the search function. Since the introduction on Twitter, most networks are using them in one way or another, including the following:  Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest. Suffice it to say, hashtags are here to stay.

7 Reasons You Should be Using Hashtags

Now that we have established what hashtags are and their importance, here are seven reasons to start using them today:

1. Streams

Many social media users leverage dashboard tools such as Tweetdeck and Hootsuite to organize the information that they consume. These tools allow you to set up “channels” to monitor and organize your followers (e.g. donors, media, colleagues), manage outgoing communication drafts, and follow keyword hashtags.

Much of my content is discovered by my use of hashtags that I know my audience follows: #hesm (higher education social media), #HEmkting (higher education marketing) #ismarketing (independent school marketing), and #emchat (the hashtag used for a Thursday night chat by enrollment management professionals).

I discovered these hashtags by using Hashtagify.me, an online database that organizes popular hashtags and provides related and relevant hashtags to consider. I found my options by analyzing the hashtag #highered. Remember that choosing hashtags is an important process in your strategy, and you should find tags that are in circulation to associate with your organization.

2. Search

A number of users also take advantage of the search function within social media networks to discover accounts to follow based upon their hashtag usage. Hashtags can improve your search engine optimization within the network. You can easily search for hashtags by using Hashtags Tracker and find lots of ideas.

Many Twitter users leverage the hashtags not only in their communication, but in their profile descriptions for this reason. Much like the streams, search is a way for your message to be discovered and followed in an easy way for your users.

3. Gain Influencer Notice

Another reason to leverage hashtags is to gain the attention of influencers. Within the Hashtagify.me tool set, you’ll find the ability to identify the most influential users for a particular hashtag. This is important because every time an influencer retweets or engages with your communication, it is amplified to their audience and to possible followers for your organization.

Understanding and building relationships with these individuals can create dynamic opportunity for your messaging.

4. Advertising

Pay-per-click advertising within social media is heating up and producing strong returns on the investment. A strategy for amplifying your message is to include trending or popular hashtags with your advertisement.

Again, turning to online tools to best understand your target audience and the hashtags that they are using can yield improved results for your campaigns and conversions. This should be a part of your social media strategy.

5. Online Chats

In their book The Art of Social Media, Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick outline an excellent strategy for Twitter chats – organized discussions monitored by hashtags to allow users to follow conversations. I encourage admissions offices to consider developing and scheduling prospective student and parent chats throughout the fall months. This could also be used for advancement and alumni relations to organize meet-ups and other question/answer times with key leaders.

Developing your own hashtag as part of that chat strategy is recommended, and using popular hashtags to initially promote it would be part of the marketing strategy.

6. Newsjacking

During Superbowl XLVII, the power went out in the New Orleans Superdome. One tweet from Oreo Cookies stole the show and was remembered as one of the brilliant advertising moves of the night. They did not pay the millions of dollars for an elaborate 60-second ad. They used a tweet:

David Meerman Scott, in his book The New Rules of Marketing & PR discusses the new trend of “newsjacking” and how by strategically using hashtags around a news event, an organization can essentially hi-jack some coverage by inserting themselves into the news stream. While this is not for everyone, nor should it be an early part of your strategy, it may be a future option for more mature social media experts.

7. Offline Promotion = Viral Opportunities

Indiana University leveraged hashtags as part of a brilliant admission promotion. The simple use of the hashtag #IUSAIDYES on bright, bold red envelopes produced a viral social media campaign when students began posting selfies with their acceptance letters.

Creative thinking with hashtags may result in wider audiences for your marketing messages.

Hashtags are a key tool in your social media strategy. These seven ideas are just some of the reasons you should use hashtags and understand them in a greater degree. With planning and strategy, hashtags should become a regular part of your social media practice.

Great News!
Since the publication of this post, I’ve written an ebook on the popular topic of Hashtags. You can download my #Hashtags: Your Social Media Secret Weapon ebook for free.

And if you need help with any other aspect of your education marketing, don’t hesitate to reach out.

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