By now anyone with an Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook account or on any other social media channel has seen someone use a hashtag. Often hashtags are used to participate in a trending topic such as a political debate on Twitter (#electionresults2018) or on Instagram to to categorize your images so that they are discoverable by people with similar interests (#weightloss). On Facebook, the use of hashtags is being utilized by businesses to promote their brand (#pepsisweepstakes) or by individuals promoting a cause (#curecancer) or something just ridiculously funny (#vegancat). You’ll often see hashtags with a tone of sarcasm, because who doesn’t want to make a point about something insane on the internet? (#thestruggleisreal).

As a marketing tool, hashtags can either be your be a great opportunity…or just a waste of time. Hashtags are intended to do one of 2 things: 1) drive people to your content and brand, or 2) call people to action (which ultimately drives people to your content and brand).

Many don’t fully understand the power of hashtags. Hashtags are hyperlinked categories. They consist of a word or a series of words with a pound sign in front of them (as anyone older than a millenial can identify with). Pretty simple. They are mini search engines that people will click on in order to see a breadth of information on a given topic. That a hashtag is trending means there are probably thousands of people–if not more!!–in social media interested in a particular #topic and your potential to be seen when using that hashtag is exponentially greater than inventing your own hashtag. Its the difference between using the hashtag #coke vs #carbonatedbeverage in order to increase your visibility. No one cares to type in #carbonatedbeverage if they are looking for information on Coke products.

As a business, the use of trending or commonly searched hashtags has the potential to increase your visibility. Another way of encouraging interactions with more people is to market your brand via hashtags and calls to action. Start using hashtags to get people to do something and share about it online. If you’re promoting an event like North by Northwoods Music Crawl, #northbynorthwoods and #nxnw should be included in marketing campaigns in order to draw people in to use the hashtags before and while attending performances. If you want to draw attention to activities going on in your community, create hashtags that draw interest like #SpringfieldSummerFun or #ElmhurstEats or #LiveMusicDubuque. The key to these types of hashtags REUSE. To use them only once or twice renders them meaningless in the strategy set forth: getting people to pay attention to what is happening in your community. Consistency is key and is the only way to get people to click on them or to use them, too.

The bottom line with hashtag useage is to be consistent and not use them haphazardly. Know what your goals are (i.e. more clicks, more people using the hashtags, branding, etc) and strategize accordingly. Hashtags with a single-use lifespan are of little use in growing a business. Research the next hashtag you want to use by searching with it on your preferred social media channels. Using #burgertours and #brandyoldfashioneds might actually be the most effective hashtags to attract food tourists in the coming months. If its never been used before, find ways to get people to share in its usage. “Tell us about your last visit to Little Italy #meatballheaven.”