Have you ever wondered why so many businesses are using hashtags in their social media posts, and if your business would benefit from having a hashtag? If you want to grow and brand your social media presence, engage with your fans, turn potential customers into your biggest promoters, and learn what people are saying about you, creating a hashtag is a great idea!

First, let’s talk about exactly what a hashtag is. Hashtags are a pound sign (#) followed by a set of words in social media posts. When you click on the automatically generated hashtag link, you will be brought to a page with all of the other posts, tweets, and statuses generated by other users who used the same hashtag. It allows people to discover what other people are saying about that same topic. Hashtags were first created on Twitter, but now Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest, Google+, and Tumblr all have hashtag capabilities.

Once you create a hashtag for your business, users will be able to click it to see all of the wonderful images and posts fans are posting about your brand. An effective hashtag will even encourage fans to post about your brand on social media more often. At Marshall Communications, we create a list of potential hashtags before finding the one that really resonates with the brand and the goals of the company’s social media presence. Here are some tips on how to create an effective hashtag for your business:

1. Decide if the Hashtag will be Ongoing or for a Single Campaign

Example of a hashtag in useYou will need to decide if you want a hashtag that will stay with your company long-term, and/or a hashtag specific to a campaign or event. Many companies have one long-term hashtag and create separate hashtags for different campaigns and events. In honor of the 25th anniversary of Marshall Communications, the team developed the #Marshall CommunicationsCares hashtag to use when posting on social media about the 25 acts of kindness the organization did to give back to the community. Hashtags specific to events are a great way to encourage attendees to post about the event online.

2. Reflect your Brand

Example of a hashtag boardYour hashtag will become an essential component of your brand, so make sure it is consistent with your voice and how you want your company to be viewed. REI, a national outdoor retail co-op, uses #OptOutside, encouraging fans to spend more time outside. The tag is consistent with the company’s mission to inspire, educate and outfit its members and the community for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship. Right now, there are 1,025,899 posts on Instagram of fans showing how they #OptOutside.

3. Keep it Short

The goal of your hashtag is to have consumers using it on all social media channels. With Twitter’s 140-character limit, you want to make sure they have enough room to use your hashtag in their tweets. The ideal hashtag is 15 characters or less, the maximum number of characters for a Twitter username.

4. Make it Conversational

If you can make your hashtag fit into a sentence, users are more likely to use it! A great example of this is the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s hashtag, #VisitBarHarbor, which easily fits into posts by users who are, in fact, visiting Bar Harbor.

5. Make it Memorable

More and more businesses are creating their own hashtags. Make sure your customers, clients, employees, sponsors, and partners will be able to remember the hashtag when they post about your business online.

6. Consider Spelling

Avoid words that are commonly misspelled or acronyms that are difficult for the average fan to remember. When the hashtag is spelled wrong, the post will not come up when someone clicks on the hashtag. When a fan clicks on a tag, you want them to see as many wonderful posts about your brand as possible.

7. Make Sure No One Else is Using your Hashtag

When you click on your hashtag, you want all of the tweets, posts, and images to be about your business, not someone else’s or something inappropriate. If a different company is using a hashtag you are considering, you should choose a different one. There is no formal process to “claim” a hashtag, but once you start using it, other businesses will avoid using it unless they are posting about your brand or collaborating with you. Check by searching your potential hashtags on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. This will also make it easier to monitor what people are saying about your company and measure results in the future.

The Job is Not Done…

Once you have created your hashtag, you are not done. Use the hashtag on your own social posts, include it in your social media bios, and add it to your business cards and other company promotional materials. Monitor your hashtag to see exactly what people are saying about your business. This will let you know exactly what fans are interested in talking about online, and you can form your own social posts around it. You may even gain valuable information regarding how you can improve and what you need to continue. Engage with the fans by commenting, sharing, and liking their posts to show that you are listening and to encourage them to continue posting about your business. After all, when fans are posting about your business, they are promoting your business for you!