The Power of Hashtags Students Don’t Know About
By Angela Baker
Hashtags have taken a key on the keyboard that most people didn’t even know was there and made it one of the most useful (and used) functions that people have available. But do people actually know how to use them correctly?
It turns out that most people – especially those who are new to the hashtag game – don’t. They use what is commonly referred to in marketing as the spray and pray technique. Throw as many of them out there as possible without actually aiming and hope that some of them manage to find an interested audience.
Obviously, there are more effective ways to do such things. Here are a few pointers that will make for a more effective use of Hashtags.
Know the platform
Different platforms have different norms as to how many hashtags is acceptable. For example, on twitter you’re not expected to use more than two or three maximum in a post. If you do, you’re not going to endear yourself to the audience that uses it.
Instagram, in the meantime, allows you to use up to thirty for a post. And as these are tucked away in the comment and don’t actually detract from the photo people are looking at, it’s fine to go full monty and use them all.
Bet they didn’t know that! And as a result, they might well have been pushing away on twitter, while not engaging as many people as they could have on Instagram.
For this reason, it is incredibly important that before engaging with hashtags in a new social media platform, they first check out what other people are doing. Questions like ‘how to use hashtags on Facebook’ or whatever other platforms they’re using typed into Google will generally get them the answers they need.
Do a bit of research before you use a hashtag
Another important step that needs to be taken is to make sure that the hashtags you use reach the right people. There are two ways that it might not do so.
- Nobody else is checking it. Simply putting a hashtag in front of a word more often then not means that you’re yelling down the well. After all, if nobody is checking the hashtag for the messages associated, then nobody is going to find out that you used it in the first place.
- It isn’t being used that way. There are a lot of examples of companies that thought they were cleverly using a trending hashtag, only to realize soon after it wasn’t being used the way they thought it was. The most famous example has to be of DiGiorno which jumped on the ‘#whyIstayed’ trend and put in ‘because they had pizza’, only to realize that it was actually about physical abuse.
So, make sure they do their research! All they really need to do is type the hashtag into the social media platform and see what messages are associated with it. Another good strategy it to look at sites that list trending hashtags and see whether they might be able to appropriate some of those.
In this way, each hashtag that they end up using will reach a far bigger audience, while not running the risk of stepping on somebody’s toes and blowing up in your student’s faces. Because that’s something that none of us want.
The natural inclination when deciding on a hashtag is to make it broadly applicable. The problem is, when you do this you’re going to end up crossing wires with lots of other groups and people, which will make what you’re trying t say far harder to understand.
A much better idea is to be far more specific. Perhaps suggest your students use a few words together to specify exactly what they are trying to talk about. This will both make it far more likely that it will remain focused on the topic they imagined and – as an extra bonus – will make it far more likely other people will understand what it’s for. Both of these are instrumental if you want your hashtag to succeed.
So, let’s say you’re doing something about dissertations. Then don’t go with text, or writing, but go for dissertations or even best dissertation then the chance that that one is taken or will be used for some other purpose in the future is much more remote.
Who will use it?
You can, of course, create your own. This is a great strategy if you want to discuss something that’s relevant to a certain group or is related to a certain event. You can create hashtags for a class, a movement or anything else, really.
If you want the hashtag to grow beyond the original group, however, make sure that you consider who would be likely to use it. In this way, hashtag research is very similar to SEO keyword research.
To quickly summarize that broad topic, when choosing what words you wish to use, make sure that you know who else is using it and in what capacity. Also, make sure that the people you’re aiming that term at are actually likely to use it. Men don’t often look for skinny jeans, for example, while older people might not be familiar with such abbreviations as YOLO *(You only live once) So, if you want people to find them organically and easily, make sure they fit their normal search patterns.
Hashtags are a powerful tool when used correctly
But to learn to use them correctly takes time and a bit of attention. Your students will have to try out different hashtags and different numbers of hashtags to see what will actually win them the attention they’re after and which will fall flat.
Eventually, these kinds of things will become second nature. At that point, your students will have the huge advantage of being able to quickly and easily broadcast important ideas to a wide audience – a far wider audience, in fact, than they would otherwise be able to reach. To get there, however, means climbing a hill of trial and error. Make sure they understand that. Then they’re far more likely to succeed and learn to use this powerful tool correctly.
And from there, who knows what will become possible?