The advent and growth of social media use over the past 15 decade or so has created an amazing new array of marketing opportunities for small businesses and big box stores alike. But as it’s grown, it’s become more difficult to do well. There is now far more competition, better algorithms, and higher advertising prices, making it more challenging to get your brand noticed.

One social media strategy that businesses should take advantage of is the use of hashtags. Properly used, hashtags can help drive organic traffic to your profile pages and website. It also builds a strong brand awareness among a relevant audience. So let’s look at how hashtags work, why they’re helpful, and some ways to use them.

How Do Small Business Hashtags Work in Marketing?

Simply put, hashtags are used to organize the vast seas of content on individual social media platforms. This makes the search process for relevant information easier for every user and enhances the exploration experience. Hashtags were first introduced on Twitter, but are now ubiquitous across all social media.

For any post you make on social media, you have the option of attaching a ‘#’ prior to certain relevant keywords or phrases. This categorizes your post under specific subcategories so that your post is more readily found by potential customers. Any user who searches a term that you hashtag is more likely to see the content that you published. Like keywords on Google, it’s harder to be visible in a crowded field; more popular hashtags are harder to rank for.

Why Are Hashtags Important for Businesses?

Social media hashtags add value to your content because it puts your content in front of the right users. You spent time creating a new webpage, product page, or blog post so you want the right eyes seeing it. In a space as crowded as the internet, it’s difficult to be seen at all. So when you are seen, it’s vital that it’s reaching the right eyes.

Hashtags also allow you to think like your potential customers. Anticipate what your customers want by attaching the right content with the right hashtags. If you anticipate this wisely, you should see the result of good marketing: a spike in traffic and conversions.

How Do You Use/Create a Great Hashtag?

You have a lot of freedom in how you use hashtags. In fact, you can even start your own and hope they go viral (#fetch). But if you’re playing it safe, there are a few basic rules that every business should follow:

No Spaces Allowed – Adding a space will break a hashtag. You can separate words by capitalizing the first letter of each individual word.

Use Popular or Trending Hashtags – It’s great to jump on bandwagons early and be a part of popular hashtags. If you’re too late to the party your post will likely get buried.

Stay Informative – Abstract hashtags might be brilliantly witty or creative, but if it goes over most heads, it won’t gain traction. Keep it on point with clear messaging.

Review It Critically – If you have a big follower base already and you’re creating your own hashtag, make sure that it can’t be construed in the wrong way, like Susan Boyle’s 2012 album release hashtag, #susanalbumparty. Sorry Susan, #completedisaster.

Have a Backup – If you start a new hashtag that doesn’t perform well, have a backup ready to go.

Stay Short – There have been a few extra long hashtags that have caught on, but in general, keep it simple. Long hashtags are usually confusing and, though sometimes funny, rarely catch on.

Don’t Litter Your Post – Twitter has a character limit which means that users can’t attach 400 hashtags to a single post, but other platforms offer more leeway. Don’t be that company, though. Use a few relevant hashtags in each post.

Incorporate Into Sentences – Make your hashtag sound natural by seamlessly integrating it into a sentence. Don’t just pile up a handful at the end of the post.

How Can Small Businesses Use Hashtags Effectively?

Aside from promoting your content with established hashtags and trying to create new, popular hashtags, SMBs can also use them to promote events, advertising campaigns, charitable outreach, or breaking news.

  • For events, look at the official social media pages for the hosts of the event. For instance, a trade show will have an official page with one or several official hashtags. Only use these when making an announcement about your attendance.
  • Advertising campaigns might mean you’ve created your own hashtag. In these cases, use them in a consistent way and use the often. They may take a while to catch on so stay persistent without overdoing it.
  • For charity awareness campaigns, again stick to official hashtags. Let your business stand out in the content of the post, not the hashtag. There have been some amazingly successful charitable campaigns, like #IceBucketChallenge.
  • For cultural trends or big events, be sure to appropriately use any trending hashtags with a post or two.

What Social Media Platforms Are Best for Hashtags?

In general, you’ll reach the largest audience with hashtags on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. There are plenty of others that might suit your small business, but let’s focus on these for some of your social media content marketing.

Twitter

The origin of the hashtag, Twitter makes it a little tricky by adding a character limit. Therefore, it’s important to use them wisely. Focus on category hashtags, like #marketing, or trending events, like #womensworldcup. This allows you to reach a large audience without using up too many of your precious 280 characters.

Instagram

On the other hand, feel free to go a bit more hogwild on Instagram. Their hashtag database is the only way to search through photos, encouraging users to cover all bases with any hashtags attached to a post. Since Instagram is an image-based platform, hashtags are your main opportunity for your business marketing copy.

Facebook

While hashtags are newer to Facebook, they are available and help users navigate through posts that use the same hashtag. Businesses might as well give it a try on Facebook.

LinkedIn

A business page on LinkedIn is best for those companies that sell B2B. Most B2C businesses have a profile and some activity, but it’s more valuable asset for those involved in the business community. Hashtags on LinkedIn are a great way to increase your networking and build awareness among other businesses that you can cross-promote with.

What Are the Right Hashtags to Use for Your Business?

While there’s no definite answer to this, there are some ways that businesses can narrow down a list of hashtags. Start by compiling a broad list that you can narrow down over time.

  • Think about relevant hashtags that you’ve seen on your own use of social media. Perhaps you’re already up to date on trending hashtags.
  • Do some research on industry-specific hashtags to keep your content ultra-relevant. Again, you want to stay on topic and reach a narrow audience.
  • Sort hashtags by popularity to see which hashtags are more likely to drive your business traffic. These are typically more likely to create action from a user.
  • Use the right content hashtags that explain what is contained in your post. If you’re an apparel retailer and want to promote a seasonal line, you can use hashtags like #summerfashion or #summerstyle.
  • You might also want to narrow down hashtags geographically if they still have enough traffic. Many businesses still target local customers, so efforts to limit your audience to those users nearby will pay off.
  • Do some brainstorming with your marketing team to come up with long-term branded hashtags that will be around for years. You can build these with great content and more users. Initially, focus on making them creative, memorable, and unique. Use your business name, motto, or most popular product. Whatever you choose, make it fun for your users to use. Like other social media engagement, think about ways to incentivize the hashtag use.