hash·tag: (used on social media sites such as Twitter) a word or phrase preceded by a hash or pound sign (#) and used to identify messages on a specific topic.
et·i·quette: a code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group.
hash·tag et·i·quette: something many social media users lack.
Hashtags are crucial to your effectiveness on Twitter. However, it’s not enough to know how to use them; knowing how to use them properly is essential, too. Violate hashtag etiquette, and you risk losing current followers and irritating potential ones.
Whether you’re a Twitter veteran or a newbie, here are 10 ways you can make your hashtags worker harder and smarter.
1. Think about each hashtag.
Sounds stupid, right? Of course, you will think about your hashtag. Don’t be so sure. Social media can be a siren’s song. In your haste to join in and keep up, it’s all too easy to value quick and provocative over smart and right. Instead, take a moment to think about your hashtag. You will never regret it.
2. Be relevant.
Twitter newbies often use hashtags as nonsequiturs. They tweet about a topic, then end with a hashtag or two that have nothing to do with that topic. Maybe it’s because they don’t understand a hashtag’s purpose. Maybe they are trying to be cute or cutting-edge.
The bottom line is it makes your tweet little more than spam.
3. Keep it short.
Nobody enjoys long-winded people. The same goes for long hashtags. Keep yours as short and sweet. By doing so, you appear more focused. You also leave yourself more room for your message. And you also make it easier for the reader, which should always be a consideration. You’ve got 140 characters to work with. Don’t waste a bunch of them on unnecessarily long hashtags.
4. Use initial caps.
Social media is known for its lack of – or disregard for – punctuation. However, there are times when it’s the right thing to do. For instance, a multiword hashtag. When writing one, keep the reader in mind and capitalize each word. #HowToBoilAnEgg is easier to read than #howtoboilanegg. And if it’s easier to read, it’s more inviting to your reader.
5. Know your destination.
If each hashtag is a key to a room, make sure it’s a room you want to be in. Search Twitter to see if your hashtag already exists. If it does and the conversation there is relevant to your message, full speed ahead. If it doesn’t, you have two options: change your hashtag or keep it and start your own discussion.
6. Less is more.
A short and simple hashtag communicates and helps join conversations. Few things taint your tweets more than too many hashtags. You not only appear indecisive but also annoy readers and give your message a spam feel. Remember general rules of thumb are one hashtag is great, two is OK, three is borderline dumb.
7. Don’t hashtag every word.
#How stupid #does this #look? #Almost#as#stupid#as#this. If you’re guilty of hashtag hysteria, get over yourself. It smacks of amateurism and self-importance. It also impairs readability, devalues your message, looks sloppy and can be annoying for users to read.
8. Weave hashtags into your message.
It’s easy to place hashtags at the end of your tweet. It’s also common, which makes it predictable and ho-humish. Deft tweeters weave hashtags into their messages. This makes them seem more integral to their thought, not a coda to it.
9. Beware piggybacking a trend.
Want to feel the wrath of Twitter? Create a hashtag that connects your product to a trending topic you know little if anything about. If you think that’s a beginner’s mistake, think again. It’s been done by some of the most prominent and most media-savvy brands out there, from Kenneth Cole to DiGiorno Pizza.
10. Write it, don’t say it.
There’s an old saying, “Children should be seen and not heard.” The same goes for hashtags. Verbal hashtags are like air quotes – silly at best, mind-numbingly stupid when overused, which is very easy to do. Reserve your hashtags for readers, not listeners. Let this conversation between Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake serve as a warning.
Rhonda Serkes offers one-on-one instruction and corporate seminars on the power of Twitter. Known as “The Twitter Lady” in the Philadelphia area, she is also available for online instruction. For rates and availabilities, email Rhonda or call (610) 668-3020.
Follow Rhonda @rhondaserkes.