The use of the pound sign, or “hashtag,” to create internal links in status updates began with Twitter, where it helped users to find followers with similar interests, talk about events, and disseminate news quickly. Twitter and its users mastered the hashtag and the associated concept of “trending” topics, making it a critical tool for companies and individuals alike. In fact, since their introduction on Twitter, hashtags have spread all over the internet, appearing in surprising places and without any of the associated links. And now the hashtag has come to Facebook.
In this past week, Facebook has added a hashtag feature to user posts. This is not to say that people weren’t using hashtags on Facebook before – they just didn’t really mean much, because they didn’t link anywhere. This new era, however, promises to revolutionize the way conversations are had on Facebook, and that means a whole new world is opening up for businesses. Whether you run a small start-up or a corporate giant, Facebook’s hashtags have the potential to change the way you interact with your customers. Get ready for the next big thing in social networking, because it’s here.
One way that small businesses can take advantage of the new hashtags on Facebook is by monitoring relevant conversations. Brainstorm which hashtags are likely to be associated with your business or service and check out those conversations. For small businesses, this targeting aspect of Facebook’s hashtags will be one of the most useful components, although in some cases privacy settings will form a barrier.
Think beyond just the primary hashtags and keywords associated with your brand when executing your search. For example, if you are a portrait studio, you might want to follow not only tags about photography, but also about major life events that people might want to capture, such as birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations.
If you work for a large national corporation, seeking customers on Facebook may mean looking at too big of a population to really work with. Your slice of the pie is just too big for that kind of search (although Facebook is probably doing this for you – watch out for changes in advertising structure). Instead, search your company’s hashtag for product reviews. Hashtags are a great way to find out what customers are saying about your products, and you can use this to your advantage.
Say you find a few customers saying great things about your washing machines, using your company’s hashtag. Use Facebook’s sharing mechanism to disseminate that post to the client base that likes your page. This pairing of a unique customer face with your company can help you to stand out and demonstrate to others that your company is doing good work. Endorsements go a long way when it comes to building your brand.
Part of using hashtags is getting your customer base to use them so that you can track conversations about your product. But how can you sell customers on your hashtag? Many users have suggested that they would be more willing to share a company’s hashtag if they were given a discount or other reward for doing so. While this can be hard to track, a small rewards program tied in to hashtag use could be just the boost your business needs to get the conversation going.
One way that hashtags can work well for businesses (both big and small) is through strategic use on posts related to a special promotion or an upcoming event. Twitter really pioneered the use of hashtags for tracking events – people were known to live-tweet conferences or athletic events. The same can be true for business campaigns. Develop a tag to be paired with a particular advertising campaign and you can greatly expand your audience. Try something fun and memorable – think Charmin’s “#tweetfromtheseat,” for example – that will have customers tagging all their relevant posts.
One important feature for brands to look out for is the cross-pollination of hashtags between different social networking platforms. If you post an Instagram photo with hashtags to your Facebook, those tags will link to the Facebook conversation there and the Instagram conversation back on its home site. Suddenly hashtags have become mobile in a way they couldn’t be before. This means that companies need to be aware of which platforms they are advertising to, because their hashtags are probably more mobile than they think.
Right now, hashtags are primarily serving as a discovery tool – businesses and their customers can use them to see who else is having a conversation about Heinz mustard, for example. But changes are probably right around the corner as Facebook adjusts to the hashtag feature. Expect hashtags to become a way for businesses to advertise on Facebook, stepping in where things like Sponsored Stories failed. Businesses will want to be even more strategic in their hashtag use if a more targeted advertising plan comes into effect on Facebook.
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