Hashtags provide some interesting and effective ways for small-business owners to network, interact, and share information with people theyâ€™d otherwise never reach. In fact, savvyÂ social media marketersÂ attach hashtags to nearly all of their updates to increase the impact of their messages and reach more potential customers.
AÂ hashtag, as you probably know, is a word (or a phrase with no spaces) preceded by the # symbol. Hashtags are commonly used on sites likeÂ LinkedIn,Â Twitter,Â Google+,Â Flickr,Â Facebook,Â Tumblr, andÂ Instagram. By searching for a hashtag, users of these social networks can find messages that presumably pertain to the topic suggested by the tag.
Here are five basic suggestions for using hashtags to grow your business.
Stage an Online Event or Contest
Create buzz and encourage people to follow your business byÂ running an online contestÂ using hashtags.Â Select a hashtagÂ thatâ€™s unique (or generally unused by others) and ties in well with your contestâ€™s theme or goal, as well as your brand, products, or services. Then publish a few sample entries in your contest. For example, you could post photos on Pinterest that depict your companyâ€™s name in various contexts.
Add a new page to your company website that explains the contestâ€™s rules and showcases the prize(s). ThenÂ add your social media feeds to the page so posts with the relevant hashtags show up on your website. This will make it easier for your siteâ€™s visitors to learn about the contest and see what types of entries you seek.
Send the contest link to your newsletter subscribers, as well as your email and social media contacts. Augment this notification by posting signs about the contest around your office or store for customers or clients to see.
Network With Social Media Users
Hashtags are an excellent way to find and communicate with people on social media networks whoÂ share your interests. Either create your own hashtag or search for existing ones, such asÂ #SalesMemes. Start using the most relevant hashtag within all your subsequent posts. (Note: Itâ€™s considered bad netiquetteÂ to use more than one or two hashtags in a single message.)
You can also search for hashtags related to your business to find messages â€” and through them, people â€” that resonate with your products, services, and goals. As you communicate with others and build relationships centered around your mutual interests, they become more likely to convert to new customers, employees, or even investors.
Connect With Conference Attendees
This process may also be helpful the next time youâ€™re at a conference, trade show, or exhibition. Use Twitter to find or create relevant hashtags and â€” through them â€” identifyÂ other people attending the same eventÂ as you with whom youâ€™d like to meet, exchange ideas, or collaborate.
Begin by searching for theÂ eventâ€™s hashtag, such asÂ #shrm13, and then following up with searches for hashtags reflecting relevant topics, such asÂ #dthr. When you find someone tweeting something interesting, respond.
Check each personâ€™s online bio, and addÂ compatible peopleÂ to your list of event attendees with whom youâ€™d like to connect. Later, you couldÂ organize a face-to-face meeting, if you wish, by notifying those on your list where youâ€™re going for dinner or where youâ€™re sitting at the keynote.
Moderate a Chat on Twitter
Providing a permanent place toÂ discuss topics relevant to your businessÂ can be a valuable means of attracting and holding the attention of customers and prospects. Use a hashtag likeÂ #educoachÂ to seek out not only the people who may be interested in chatting with you, but also those who may be interested in helping you set up a chat.
OnceÂ your hashtag isÂ established, schedule regular real-time chats on particular topics. Promote these chats both on your businessâ€™s website and on the social media networks you frequent.
The keys to moderating a successful chat include:
- making everyone feel welcome
- asking more questions than you answer
- assisting everyone in communicating their ideas as clearly as possible
Collect Competitive Intelligence
LinkedIn makesÂ special use of its hashtagsÂ by responding to searches with data from its usersâ€™ updates and discussion group posts (provided that you select â€śUpdatesâ€ťÂ within LinkedInâ€™s search function). There are even filtering capabilities to help you zero in on key information quickly and easily.
The results of such searches are likely to include a good deal of information about your competitors, as well as information on experts who can answer any questions you may have.
On other social networks, you can simply search for hashtags, such asÂ #carpeDM, associated with your market area, competitors, or products and services. You can also begin to follow your competitorsâ€™ key customers to become privy to all the buzz theyâ€™re sending and receiving.